Tigers leap into regional semifinals

Woodlake’s Carissa Lopez catches a fly ball against Nipomo in a home playoff game.(Kason Clark)

Woodlake softball dominates Nipomo in a 15-1 win to open the Division IV CIF SoCal Regionals; Tigers advance to next face Garfield High School in the state regional semifinals

WOODLAKE – Last weekend in the Central Section championship game, Woodlake softball came back in nail-biting fashion to beat Porterville and clinch the Central Valley title. So as they hosted the first round of the Division IV CIF SoCal Championships this past Tuesday, the No. 4 seed Tigers looked to leave no room for doubt. 

From the opening pitch, the Tigers pounced all over No. 5 Nipomo to take a 9-0 lead by the end of the second inning. The visiting Titans had no answers as the Tigers went onto win, 15-1, in five innings on May 28. After a photo finish in the Central Valley title game, Woodlake head coach Ramon Lara was satisfied with how the Tigers dominated to open the state regionals. 

“We were a little worried about the girls coming off such a huge high that they were going to be a little low,” Lara said. “But we came out in the first inning, really set the tone and put the game away early.”

Along with their offensive explosion, the Woodlake defense came to play led by the performance of starting pitcher Audrina Rodriguez. Across five innings, Rodriguez pitched the whole way allowing one hit, three walks and recording eight strikeouts. With a chance to advance to the regional semifinals, Rodriguez knew her team depended on her. 

“I just knew that I had to hold it down for the team,” Rodriguez said. “I just had to make the best of it, know my abilities, my team’s abilities and trust in them, so that’s really what kept me up throughout the whole game.”

The Woodlake offense did its part by taking control in the bottom of the first inning. After a couple walks and a hit to load them up, Hannah Lafferty doubled to left field to clear the bases for a 3-0 lead. Later in the second inning, the Tigers continued to scratch out their lead. 

After scoring the game-winning run in the Central Section championship, Giselle Valencia scored on a Nipomo error to extend the lead. Another couple of errors allowed a pair of runners to score to push the lead to 6-0. Lafferty then scored on another error as the Tigers base runners continued to take advantage of Nipomo’s mistakes.

“We want girls that can run,” Lara said. “They’re here to play a role and everybody played a role and once we get in there and we put the ball in play, those guys are going to run.”

Mareli Zamora capped off the second with an RBI single to right to make it a 9-0 lead for the Tigers. The Titans tried to fight back as they scored in the top of the third to cut the deficit to 9-1. But that would be the lone score for the Titans as Woodlake’s defense came to play. The Tigers committed several costly errors against Porterville in the Central Valley title, so they were ready to execute this time out.

(Kason Clark)

“We knew we were a better team than how we played in the Porterville game. We knew that little errors were going to kill us,” Rodriguez said. “We just came back stronger than last time and our defense just really knows how to stay up.”

After a scoreless third, the Tigers got back to work in the fourth. After loading the bases, two straight walks drove in a pair of runs. The Nipomo pitcher then hit the next two batters to drive in another two runs for Woodlake. Marriah Ellis capped off the inning with a single to drive in another two runs to make it a 15-1 game. After only scoring five runs in their previous game, Lara liked the Tigers’ approach at the plate against Nipomo.

“I think we struggled a little bit against Porterville on staying back,” Lara said. “The girls were a lot more patient today and that led to making their pitcher throw a lot more pitches and eventually wearing her out.”

Rodriguez recorded three straight strikeouts in the top of the fifth to end the game early. Along with advancing to the state regional semifinals, the Tigers improved to 29-2 overall and extended their winning streak to 17 straight.

But next up for the Tigers will be their biggest challenge of the season. Waiting for them in the semifinals will be No. 1 seed Garfield High School, who has a 20-5 overall record, nine straight wins and is coming off a CIF Los Angeles City Section Championship. As the Tigers head down to Los Angeles to face the Bulldogs, Rodriguez knows she and the Tigers will have to play their best softball of the season.

“We can’t let ourselves get too comfortable. It’ll be a long drive, everybody’s going to be tired so we have to keep up the energy,” Rodriguez said. “We’re excited. It’s a far drive to a big school. Coming from a small school, it’s a big opportunity to get our name out there so we’re trying to make it big.”

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