Big Valley Christian sophomore Ava Hernandez delivers a pitch during the Lions' 15-1 victory over Lowell (San Francisco) on Thursday in the semifinals of the CIF Northern California Regional Tournament (Ron Agostini/Front Row Preps)

Last team standing: Big Valley rolls Lowell to reach NorCal softball final

Ron Agostini

MODESTO — The last team still competing this spring starts five underclassmen and only one senior, while its pitcher’s strikeouts are compiled on the outfield fence.

Meet the Big Valley Christian Lions, the hosts for the CIF Northern California Division V softball championship game Saturday.

“All year long this team has been hitting the ball,” coach Eric Layman praised. “And they feed off each other.”

The top-seeded Lions (21-6), who defeated Lowell of San Francisco 15-1 in 4½ mercy-ruled innings Thursday, will vie for the NorCal title against No. 3 Los Altos, which eliminated St. Helena 4-2. Game time is 4 p.m. Saturday at the BVC diamond.

Big Valley Christian has taken full advantage of the CIF’s first excursion into the regional softball playoffs.  The Lions have saved their best, in fact, for the postseason.

Stone Ridge Christian, BVC’s Central California Athletic Alliance rival, swept both conference games over the Lions, one via illness. But Big Valley, once again meeting SRC in the section Division VII final, roared from behind with three seventh-inning runs for a 5-3 victory and the Lions’ third blue banner.

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Ava Hernandez (20-5) has anchored Big Valley all season. She entered the regional semifinal with 300 strikeouts, eighth-best in the state, and her variety of pitches often fools opponents.

She struck out nine, all of them indicated by the K’s posted on the fence near the left field foul pole. Whomever has done those chores has gotten a workout this season. Hernandez once struck out 21 in a 10-inning game.

Lowell greeted her, however, with three consecutive first-inning singles to load the bases in the first. She worked out of the jam with, what else, two third strikes.

“To be honest, I like the situation. I like to battle out of it,” Hernandez said. “I put myself in that situation, so I had to get myself out of it.”

Big Valley scored once in the first on an RBI double to left by Cecily Fontana (3-for-3, 3 RBIs).Then came the nine-run outburst in the second that can be described thus: All nine Lions scored before Lowell registered an out.

Six hits, four stolen bases and four errors fueled BVC. Hernandez circled the bases on her RBI hit and outfield error. Beers (3-for-4, 3 RBIs) saw only one pitch and sent it toward the redwoods beyond the fence in left-center for a two-run homer. Breanna Rice tacked on a two-run single to center.

Five more runs in the third, featuring a two-run double by Fontana and a run-scoring triple by Rachel Schmidt, assured a game that would not go seven innings.  Big Valley out-hit Lowell 11-5.

Big Valley’s optimism stretches behind Saturday’s title game. The Lions are both young and skilled. Rice, who graduated last week, is the team’s lone grad starter.

“It’s been weird, but it’s been fun getting to know people I’m usually not around,” Rice said. “It worked pretty well.”

Big Valley is the only team still competing in’s coverage area.

Other games Thursday:

LINCOLN 1, CENTRAL CATHOLIC 0 – The Raiders’ outstanding season ended dramatically on a walkoff homer in the bottom of the ninth by Lincoln’s Daniella Hunter. The CIF Division II semifinal featured a classic duel between pitchers Randi Roelling of Central Catholic and Peja Goold of Lincoln.

Roelling, the state leader in strikeouts, struck out 15 and allowed only two hits, but the second one decided the game. Central Catholic, which defeated Lincoln twice in tournament action last March, outhit the Trojans 5-2 but stranded the bases loaded and no one out in the eighth.

The Raiders (27-5-1), the Valley Oak League co-champions who were beaten in the section Division III final by Vista del Lago, reached the regional semifinals by defeating Aragon 9-1.

The Trojans (26-5-1) will be the hosts for the NorCal final Saturday against Benicia, which upset top-seeded Notre Dame 5-2.

BEREAN CHRISTIAN 7, TURLOCK CHRISTIAN 2 – Turlock Christian managed only four hits and was eliminated by Berean Christian in the Division V baseball semifinals at Pedretti Park.

The Eagles (23-5), who won the Central California Athletic Alliance title and then annexed their first section D V title, advanced to the regional semifinal by blanking Mendota 6-0 behind lefty Gavin Farinha.