For The Signal
By Jason Greenwald
West Ranch and Valencia girls softball clashed in an extra-inning thriller on Thursday afternoon at Valhalla Field with Foothill League title implications on the line.
The Wildcats took advantage of two late-inning errors from the Vikings in a 6-5 victory and remain one game back from Saugus, who is currently at the top of the leaderboard with one week left.
“We were able to take advantage of the errors and that is something we have been able to do all year,” said West Ranch coach Phil Giarrizzo. “I’m definitely proud of them. They didn’t give up. They could have given up at any point after getting runners on base and not being able to get anybody in, but then we exploded in one inning and that was what we needed. It’s the first time we swept Valencia since I could remember, so it’s a good feeling.”
Valencia (19-7 overall, 5-3 in Foothill League) struck first in the bottom of the first inning with two strong plate appearances from freshmen Cheyanne Marxer and sophomore Lani Paragas, who both generated a walk.
West Ranch (12-7, 6-2) senior starting pitcher Jenna Rorick had a difficult time finding her location and allowed Marxer and Paragas to steal second and third base. The next pitch from Rorick sailed five-feet above senior catcher Adrienne Chang, granting Marxer a free pass to home plate and a 1-0 lead.
Senior Alexis DeYoung continued the first inning for the Vikings hitting a double and scoring Paragas, giving Valencia a 2-0 lead.
The bottom of the second inning was no different for Valencia’s offense, putting another run on the board from a Paragas single that slipped past the Wildcats shortstop.
With a 3-0 lead and their offense clicking, junior starting pitcher Emma Montoya went to work shutting down West Ranch for much of the game, not allowing a run until the sixth inning.
“This is a learning year and we are very young. For her to bounce back and keep her composure was great,” said Valencia assistant head coach Amy Moore.
West Ranch had their opportunities throughout the game with runners on base. Every inning looked as if they were poised to score, but Montoya closed the door and buried any momentum.
The Vikings added two more runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to strengthen their lead at 5-0. Freshman Emma Seper executed a textbook bunt to score DeYoung and junior Kailey West collected an RBI from a single to left field, scoring Seper.
Montoya continued to pitch into the top of the sixth inning and looked confident. With two outs and one on base, a series of back-to-back errors occurred from the Vikings defense.
The wheels began to spin for West Ranch, who seized their opportunity in mighty fashion.
Sophomore Taylor Beardsley, who was already on base during the inning, scored from second on a Viking error induced by senior Sara Olson’s hit.
Chang singled in the next at-bat and scored freshmen Lily Baggot, making it 5-2.
Montoya couldn’t stop the bleeding and was pulled from the game.
The inning resumed with senior Gianna Lombardi lacing a single to right field scoring Olson.
Rorick hammered a double into the outfield scoring two more runners, tying the game at 5-5.
Momentum swung in the Wildcats favor.
Rorick almost conceded the game in the bottom of the seventh inning with the bases loaded, but managed to escape the inning with no damage, giving her team an opportunity in extra innings.
“In the first few innings I wasn’t hitting my spots as well as I should’ve, but my teammates were there for me and picked me up,” Rorick said. “We really stepped it up in the last few innings, we were feeling a little down and then we picked each other up.”
Chang hit a leadoff double in the top of the eighth inning to put a Wildcat runner on base.
Lombardi stepped to the plate with the go-ahead runner at second and smacked a single to score Chang, giving the Wildcats their first lead of the day, 6-5.
“I’m really excited because this means that we’re in it to win it for league,” Lombardi said. “Whenever we’re down runs we always seem to come back because we never give up and put up a really good fight.”
Rorick closed out Valencia in the bottom of the eighth inning, finishing the comeback. Not only did she get her team the win, but she pitched a complete game.
“It’s good that we have that opportunity to possibly be in a tie for first place,” Giarrizzo said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve been there, hopefully, we can make it happen.”
Valencia will look to rebound on the road at Saugus next week. West Ranch will take on Hart at home. Both games will be on Tuesday at 3:15 p.m.