Hawks soar high in league opener

Tulare Western’s Janmarie Topalian bats against Mission Oak.(Kason Clark)

Mission Oak softball holds off Tulare Western in an 11-8 victory to open league play; Hawks now stand at 12-5, are 7-1 in their past eight games

TULARE – With the West Yosemite League softball season here, the Mission Oak Hawks were looking to fly high in their opener against the Tulare Western Mustangs; but on the road this past Tuesday night, they found themselves in a back-and-forth battle with the Mustangs. 

Heading into the fifth inning, the game was tied 7-7 and the Mustangs were riding high on momentum. But the Hawks retook the lead and hung on for an 11-8 win over their rivals. While it was not pretty, the Hawks were happy to get the win to start their league season.

“It wasn’t perfect. It was really scrappy and we made some mistakes but I think our bats came through really strongly,” Mission Oak head coach Ilissa Facchini said.

“This was huge,” Mission Oak junior Emma Osborne said about the league win. “It started our season with a high and that’s what we needed to set the tone.”

Along with winning their league opener, the Hawks have now extended their streak to three straight wins against the Mustangs in the series. Whenever they face their cross-town rival, the Hawks are always ready to play.

“It’s a rivalry. We love to play them because we know it’s going to be a solid game,” Osborne said. “It’s intense every time, so we came out really hot which set the tone of the game because we wanted to win it so bad.”

The Hawks have improved their overall record to 12-5 this spring. They have been playing especially well as of late with a 7-1 record across their last eight games. During that stretch, Osborne believes resiliency has been the key to their success.

“We’re doing well at adjusting. That’s either on the field or in the box, it doesn’t really matter,” Osborne said. “If we have a bad at bat, we’re coming back strong with a hit or we just have a different mindset going into the box or on the field. If we make an error, we shake it off and go to the next play.”

To open the game, the Hawks had a slow start going scoreless in the top of the first inning. The Mustangs took advantage by taking the lead in the bottom of the inning when Alivea Salcedo scored on a fielder’s choice. But in the second, the Hawks got rolling when Osborne doubled to center field to drive in two runs to give the Hawks a 2-1 lead.

Mission Oak’s Kimberlee Cortez fields the ball against Tulare Western. (Kason Clark)

The Mustangs responded in the bottom of the second with an RBI single from Salcedo. Faith Powell then scored on a fielder’s choice to give Tulare Western the 3-2 advantage. But the Mustangs could not keep the Hawks grounded.

In the third, Jadyn Albright tied the game with an RBI triple to center field. Mya Ortega then gave the Hawks a 4-3 lead with an RBI single to right. Later in the fourth, Braelyn Serpa drove in another run with a single to right. Rebekah Beasley then scored on a sacrifice fly from Taylor Shepherd to make it a 6-3 game. Serpa later scored on an error to extend Mission Oak’s lead to 7-3.

Facing a deficit, the Mustangs needed a spark in the bottom of the fourth. Salcedo got it started with an RBI single to cut into the deficit. Emily Leon then drove in another run with a single to cut the deficit to 7-5. She then scored on an error to make it a one-run game. Looking to tie the game, Addison Lee doubled to center field to drive in a run to make it a 9-9 draw heading into the fifth.

After letting the lead slip away, the Hawks needed a lift, and Osborne gave them that lift when she put the ball in play and allowed Maleena Martin to score on a fielder’s choice. Beasley then kept it going with an RBI double to center to extend the lead to 9-7. As quickly as they had lost it, the Hawks had already retook the lead and momentum.

“It does shake us but I think it just pushes us to just stay locked in and stay steady on what we’re doing,” Osborne said about giving up and then retaking the lead.

In the sixth, Martin added onto the lead with an RBI double to left field. She then scored on a Mustang error to make it an 11-7 lead. The Mustangs scored in the bottom of the sixth, but that was all they could muster as Mission Oak held on for the 11-8 victory.

With their loss, the Mustangs fell to 9-6 on the season and are off to a 0-1 start to play in the West Yosemite League. While she credits the Hawks for their play, Tulare Western head coach Mica Sanchez believes the Mustangs need to do a bit more at the plate in order to compete in league this spring.

“As a team, we need to capitalize on the errors of the other team and just know the situation,” Sanchez said. “Moving forward, the plan is to continue to work hard at practice, be a little bit more explosive and more intentional with what we do with the ball and how we take care of it.”

As they head into the rest of their league schedule, Facchini believes the Hawks cannot let their strong start get to their heads.

“We need to stay confident, but not too confident because we know how the WYL is,” Facchini said. “Every team can beat any team on any given day so it’s definitely a good start and it feels good to be 1-0 but again, we can’t take anybody lightly in the WYL.”

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