Exeter’s offense produces runs in first four innings on their way to the D-IV championship
By Patrick Dillon @PDillon_SGN
FRESNO – While third seeded Exeter had dominated fourth seeded Coalinga in all aspects of the Division IV valley title game at Fresno State on Saturday, the final out still held real excitement.
Ahead 6-0 with a Coalinga runner on second and two outs, Exeter looked to close out the game. In the bottom of the seventh inning, Exeter’s pitcher Brooklyn Blackmon pitched over the middle of the plate. The Coalinga batter managed to make contact sending the ball into shallow center field.
As the ball rolled toward Exeter’s center fielder Julie Rocha, the base runner rounded third. Rocha gloved the ball on the run, and threw toward catcher Zoie Belk. The ball was on the mark and Belk tagged her out preserving the shutout and Exeter’s title. Their first since 2013.
“Julie is always consistent with her throws,” Belk said. “It was kind of crazy for them to send her because it was an automatic out.”
From the Monarchs’ dugout along the third baseline once the ball got into Belk’s glove they knew the game was done.
“I heard Rusty say, ‘That’s it,’” Exeter head coach Karen Zeibak said. “They played up to their ability, they really did.”
The Monarchs (26-6, 5-5) got on the board early. With two outs in the bottom of the first Katelyn Kirkman lined a single to left field. The shot scored Rocha from second for the 1-0 run. Kirkman tried to stretch her hit into a double, but was tagged out as she slid. It was her only hit of the game.
“My goal was just to put the ball in play,” Kirkman said.
Kirkman had struggled in recent outings. She had only produced one hit in the last five games prior to the championship. Still, Coach Zeibak had every confidence in her cleanup hitter.
“I knew she could come through and that’s why I left her at number four,” Zeibak said. “She hits strong all the time but was just in a little slump.”
Over the next two innings Kate Coulter was in on the Monarchs’ next three runs. In the second inning she scored from third on a ground out by Kayla Medrano which made the score 2-0. She came up to bat again in the third inning with the bases loaded and skipped a single past Coalinga’s second baseman into right field, bringing two of the three base runners home.
The final two runs for the Monarchs came during the fourth inning and featured a rare inside the park home run.
Corinne Acosta stepped up to the plate for her third at bat of the game with Briana Olivarez on base. Zeibak gave her the sign to swing away. Acosta made strong contact and sent the ball to left field. As it went bouncing past a diving Coalinga fielder she could hear Zeibak yelling to keep going.
“I was just sprinting as fast as I could to get home,” Acosta said.
The ball ended up rolling all the way to the fence, and with Acosta’s speed she was able to easily score. That was her only hit of the game ending her junior season with 73.
On the defensive front Blackmon handled herself like a pro at the D-I college venue. Where other players might be intimidated, Blackmon made the circle her home.
“If anything it had more of a positive effect,” Blackmon said. “I was just enjoying everything. It felt so calm to me and normal.”
Blackmon began the game using mostly screw ball pitches. While effective she did surrender a couple hits. Zeibak instructed her freshman to go to mostly curve balls for the rest of the game. That was when she got all five of her strikeouts. Still, the subtle changes kept the Horned Toad batters guessing.
“I’ll tell you what, she was on fire,” Zeibak said. “She has got so much ability.”
For three of the Monarchs it is their second ring this year. Kirkman, Acosta, and Belk all won D-II rings with the Monarchs’ volleyball team last fall.
“This is such an honor to be two-time valley champion,” Kirkman said. “It is kind of surreal, and hopefully both my teams can make it again.”