Hawks glide into section quarterfinals

Mission Oak’s Rebekah Beasley runs to first base in a home playoff game against Golden West.(Kason Clark)

Mission Oak softball holds off Golden West for a 4-2 victory to open the D-II Central Section Championships; Hawks advance to the quarterfinals to next face Lompoc 

TULARE – After battling through the regular season for the past few months, the postseason has finally arrived for high school softball in the Central Valley. 

This past Wednesday, May 16 in Tulare, the No. 11 seed Golden West Trailblazers and No. 6 seed Mission Oak Hawks faced off in the first round of the Division II Central Section Championships. With a chance to advance in the playoffs, both teams battled.

After the Hawks got off to a hot start taking a 2-0 lead, the Trailblazers responded to tie the game, 2-2, heading into the bottom of the sixth inning. That’s when the Hawks came through in the clutch with a couple runs to retake the lead and then hold on for the 4-2 victory. While it was not pretty, Mission Oak head coach Ilissa Facchini was happy that her team survived and advanced. 

“I don’t think we necessarily played to our potential today but Golden West is a tough team and I’m just glad that we pulled it out at the end,” Facchini said. “We haven’t had very many close games, so it’s good to see some pressure and us excelling with the pressure.”

The Hawks have been playing their best ball lately as they have now won eight straight contests to improve their overall record to 21-6 this spring. After a slow start to the season, Mission Oak junior Maleena Martin believes the Hawks are all on the same page.

“It’s really just about us coming together and working with each other,” Martin said. “At the beginning, we weren’t really coming together and working as a team but the more we played together, the more we got working.”

The Mission Oak defense had a strong day holding the Golden West offense at bay throughout the contest. The Hawks’ offense eventually found momentum when they loaded the bases in the bottom of the second inning. That’s when a walk drove in Eryn Quinonez for a run to give the Hawks the early lead.

Later in the fifth inning, Kimberlee Cortez singled to right field to drive in a run to make it a 2-0 game. But after struggling throughout the night, the Golden West bats finally found a spark in the top of the sixth. Khianna Hardwick first got the Trailblazers on the board with an RBI single to right. Alondra Magallanes then scored on a groundout to tie the game.

After letting the lead slip away, the Hawks looked to regain control in the bottom of the sixth. The Hawks found a spark thanks to hits from Rebekah Beasley and Braelyn Serpa to open the inning. Beasley then scored on a sacrifice fly from Taylor Shepherd to give Mission Oak the lead again. Martin followed that up with a double to left to drive in another run to push the lead to 4-2.

“We were getting into that rhythm. Once someone starts the rhythm, then we just keep going and going,” Martin said about the sixth-inning offense. “We’re all just cheering, getting hyped and getting into that rhythm. It’s really amazing.

After they let the lead slip away, Facchini was not surprised that the Hawks responded in the sixth. 

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Golden West’s Hayden Oliveira catches a fly ball in a road playoff game against Mission Oak. (Kason Clark)

“We just had to keep doing what we’ve been doing all year because we really have been coming through with the bats later in the game,” Facchini said.

With the lead again, Martin and the Mission Oak defense closed it out in the seventh to secure the win and advance. On the mound, Martin pitched a complete game where she only allowed two runs. As Martin got into a groove against the Trailblazers, she credits her focus and the support from her family. 

“I really just try and focus every time I pitch. I started locking in days before,” Martin said. “One thing that really helps me is that my mom makes sure that I’m fed, she’s always cheering me on and she’s always giving me snacks during the game so I think that’s also a big part of that.”

With their loss, the Trailblazers’ season came to an end. They finished their year with an overall record of 20-9 and they qualified for the Division II Central Section Championships after competing in Division IV the previous season. While he is proud of the year that his team had, Golden West head coach Eli Carter believes his team can learn from this postseason loss.

“We had a great team. I think the hard part for us is just learning the mental part of this game and how important it is. Confidence in every at bat and confidence in yourself,” Carter said. “Our defense played great but we just needed some more from our at bats and we didn’t get it, so it’s a bummer.”

The Hawks now advance to the quarterfinals where they will next face No. 14 seed Lompoc. As the Hawks look to stay hot and advance to the Division II Central Section semifinals, Facchini believes execution will be key for them.

“We’re going to be practicing the execution of our plays,” Facchini said. “It’s been a while since we’ve practiced those situations so I think executing and having that discipline to keep pulling out wins is really huge for us.”

Across Tulare County this past Wednesday, other local softball teams began the postseason. No. 8 seed Redwood opened the Division I Central Section Championships with a 6-2 win over No. 9 seed Stockdale. In the Division VI Central Section Championships, No. 1 seed Lindsay advanced as No. 16 seed Laton forfeited the game. In the same bracket, No. 7 seed Farmersville lost, 13-11, to No. 10 seed Firebaugh while No. 13 seed Granite Hills suffered a 4-3 loss to No. 4 seed Riverdale. 

In the Division II Central Section Championships, No. 2 seed Tulare Union was upset in a 9-6 home loss to No. 15 seed Paso Robles. In the same bracket, No. 10 seed Monache won, 12-0, on the road against No. 7 seed Highland and No. 9 seed El Diamante suffered an 8-2 loss to No. 8 seed Righetti. 

The No. 5 seed Tulare Western opened the Division III Central Section Championships with a 9-2 home win over No. 12 seed Bakersfield. In the Division V Central Section Championships, No. 1 seed Woodlake took care of business with a 10-0 win over No. 16 seed Hoover and No.6 seed Porterville defended home field with an 11-1 win over No. 11 seed Immanuel Christian.

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