Mustangs stun Tribe to end regular season

Tulare Union’s Elizabeth Guerrero lays down a bunt on the road against Tulare Western.(Kason Clark)

Isabella Zavaleta walks it off to complete the 5-4 comeback victory for Tulare Western; Tulare Union finishes 8-2 in league to be eliminated from West Yosemite League contention

TULARE – Heading into this past Thursday night, Tulare Union softball had the chance to secure its second straight West Yosemite League title and finish the regular season on a positive note. And through most of their game against their rival Tulare Western, the Tribe looked like they would clinch a share of the WYL.

The Tribe played well on the road to start May 9 as they built themselves a 4-1 lead and were one out away from securing the win and the WYL title. But the Mustangs had other ideas as they loaded the bases and began to drive in the runs to tie the game. Isabella Zavaleta then came through for the Mustangs with an RBI single to center to give Tulare Western the comeback 5-4 victory.

“It was a lot of hard work,” Zavaleta said about her big hit to end the night. “Especially with an up-and-down season struggle sometimes, so I’m always putting in the work at practice and always doing my best to better myself.”

With their win, Tulare Western improved to 13-11 overall and finished 4-6 in the WYL this spring. While the Mustangs had their struggles in league play, Tulare Western head coach Mica Sanchez believes this win demonstrates what her team is capable of.

“I feel like a lot of teams underestimated us due to our record and I think the girls really proved themselves all season that we can hit,” Sanchez said. “We pulled through with timely hits, we were disciplined and we knew, coming in, what to expect.”

After losing to the Tribe earlier in the year, the Mustangs split the season series with the Tribe. The Tribe finished the regular season with an overall record of 18-6-2 and 8-2 in league play. Elsewhere in Tulare, the Mission Oak Hawks beat Dinuba to finish 9-1 in league, meaning they won the WYL title outright.

As her team prevented the Tribe from even clinching a share of the WYL, Zavaleta believes it was a great way for the Mustangs to end the regular season.

“It feels great beating a rival team,” Zavaleta said. “Especially after they beat us in the beginning of the season. It’s great to be able to come back and get this win.”

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A Tulare Western catcher throws the ball at home against Tulare Union. (Kason Clark)

But the Mustangs had to work for it against their rival. In the top of the third inning, the Tribe took the lead with an RBI double from Mason Hatton. In the bottom of the fourth, Tulare Western responded with an RBI double from Zavaleta to tie the game.

The Tribe responded by taking control in the top of the fifth. Hatton gave her team the lead again with an RBI single to right field. Thanks to a bunt from her teammate Desteny Velasco, Hatton scored to push the lead to 3-1. Bellajah Nunley capped off the inning by scoring on a sacrifice fly from Elizabeth Guerrero.

The Tribe maintained their 4-1 lead heading into the bottom of the seventh. The Mustangs threatened by loading the bases, but the Tribe recorded two outs to put themselves one out away from walking away with the win. With their backs against the wall, Sanchez looked to motivate her team.

“I just said, ‘You know what she’s going to throw, we need to keep the energy up, we need more of that mental toughness,’” Sanchez said. “We were more focused on the game and what needed to be done in order to win it.”

“At the beginning of the inning, our coach told us to stay up and we still had a chance in this,” Zavaleta said. “We took that heart, we were cheering the whole time, we got in their heads and helped pick up the energy to help us get that win.”

The Mustangs came back thanks to their patience at the plate. Thanks to a walk, Addison Lee was driven in for a run to make it a 4-2 game. Another walk then walked in Emily Leon to cut the deficit to one run. Morgan Escobar was then hit by a pitch to bring in Angie Quirarte for another score to tie the game.

Looking to avoid extra innings, Zavaleta ended the night with a single to center to drive in the game-winning run in an exciting finish for the Mustangs. On the other end, it was a tough loss for the Tribe to end their regular season. As they now prepare for the postseason, Tulare Union head coach Carl Bivens has one message for his team.

“We have to mentally be prepared in every game we play,” Bivens said. “That’s pretty much it. We have got to be prepared to play all seven innings.”

As for the Mustangs, they will look to build off this big win as they prepare for a postseason run.

“If we come out and play like this every time, then there’s going to be a good chance that we could go pretty far,” Sanchez said. “We just have to stay mentally tough, prepared and focused on the goal.”

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