Tigers punch tickets to Valley championship

Woodlake softball celebrates a home playoff win over Corcoran to advance to the Division V Central Section Championship game.(Kason Clark)

Woodlake softball pulls out a 4-0 win over Corcoran in the semifinals of the Division V Central Section Championships; the Tigers will face Porterville in the title game at Fresno State 

WOODLAKE – With a spot in the Division V Central Section Championship game on the line, Woodlake softball found itself facing a familiar foe this past Wednesday: the Corcoran Panthers. As the two league rivals met up one more time this season, the No. 1 seed Woodlake Tigers and No. 5 seed Panthers were ready to battle.

Through the first three innings on May 22, the Tigers struggled to get the offense going as Corcoran kept it a scoreless tie. But when they got their opportunities late in the game, the Tigers pounced on them to take the lead and go on to win, 4-0, to punch their ticket to the Central Section championship.

“It’s a big win for our girls,” Woodlake head coach Ramon Lara said. “They’ve been working hard since we got going early in the year and it’s the ending we wanted.”

The Tigers continue their excellent season with an overall record of 27-2 and now 15 straight wins. That includes their two wins to open the postseason where they beat Hoover and Washington Union, both by scores of 10-0. As the Tigers have dominated to open the playoffs, Woodlake senior Joey Huntington believes their commitment to each other and winning has jump started this run.

“Something different about this year that we haven’t had all the other years is we went into the playoffs really hungry. You can feel it every game, there’s just a lot of level of intensity,” Huntington said. “They pick me up when I’m down, I pick them up when they’re down, and it’s all about working for each other.”

The Tigers came into their semifinal game with that energy, but the Panthers were ready to match it. Through the first three innings, both offenses struggled to break through as starting pitchers Audrina Rodriguez for Woodlake and Aliyah Andrade for Corcoran were locked in.

While Woodlake had beaten Corcoran twice during the regular season by scores of 5-1 and 7-1, they knew they had to battle this time out with a spot in the Central Valley title game on the line. 

“Corcoran’s a great team,” Lara said. “We’ve played them two other times this year. It was two tight games so this is what we expected.”

“Even though it’s a team we beat two times, they’re never going to roll over because it’s a really competitive program,” Huntington said. “We know those girls were going to work and they weren’t just going to give it to us.”

But the Woodlake bats eventually got going in the bottom of the fourth inning to take control. After Noemi Aldana got on base, Huntington singled to drive her in for the run and the lead. Pinch runner Giselle Valencia then scored on a groundout from Mareli Zamora to make it a 2-0 lead. After a slow start to the night, Huntington believes Aldana gave the team a spark to start the fourth.

“I just fed off my teammates as my shortstop Noemi Aldana got a hit to get on,” Huntington said. “I knew that I just had to do my work and I had to do my best with each pitch. Again, it just goes to working for each other as she did her job and I knew I had to do my job.”

Later in the sixth, the Tigers added onto their lead. After Aldana doubled to left field to start the inning, Rodriguez drove her in for a run with a hard-hit ball to right field. Thanks to her speed, Rodriguez scored on the same play for an inside-the-park home run and a 4-0 lead.

Rodriguez then came through again in the top of the seventh as she recorded the last three outs to secure the win. She finished the complete-game shutout on the mound and helped the Tigers get their third straight shutout win to open the postseason.

“Audrina’s pitching is always there. She’s put in the work and she can go seven like she did today,” Lara said. “Usually our defense does their job supporting her to put that together and we’re a tough squad to score on.”

In the Division V Central Section Championship game at Fresno State, the Tigers will next face the Porterville Panthers. As they look to take home a Central Valley championship, the Tigers will look to have that same energy and drive that has pushed them all season long.

“We had a goal at the beginning of the year and that hasn’t changed,” Lara said. “So hopefully on Saturday, we finish the job.”

“We just have to keep having the same energy, compete, keep picking each other up and know that no team is unbeatable,” Huntington said. “We know (Porerterville) is going to come in hungry, we know they’re going to come in to play and we just have to keep that same hunger and the same urge to play.”

Other local softball teams won their semifinal games this past Wednesday, May 22, to punch to their tickets to the Central Valley title game. On the other side of Woodlake’s bracket, No. 6 seed Porterville defeated No. 2 seed Orcutt Academy, 4-3, to advance.

In the Division II Central Section Championships, No. 10 seed Monache advanced with a 5-4 win over No. 6 seed Mission Oak. In the Division III Central Section Championships, No. 5 seed Tulare Western saw its run come to an end with a 10-0 loss to No. 1 seed Taft. 

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