MODESTO – The Big Valley Christian Lions poured out of the dugout and gathered at the circle Saturday to celebrate one of the school’s red-letter days.
The Lions clinched the CIF Northern California Division V softball title, turning away a comeback bid by Los Altos to win 5-3. It was the first NorCal title in any sport for the Lions, who were competing in the inaugural softball regionals.
“It feels great,” exclaimed shortstop Trinity Beers, a two-sport star whose volleyball team fell in the NorCal finals. “It was a nail-biter. They (Los Altos) came to win.”
Los Altos (17-13-1), the No. 3 seed, had not lost in the postseason, punctuated by its Central Coast Section Division 4 title. The Eagles' supportive fans made the hour, 45-minute trip over the Altamont and were treated to a scrappy comeback from a 4-0 deficit. In fact, Los Altos pulled to within 4-3 on Paola Lara-Espinoza’s RBI single and then loaded the bases in the sixth.
Pinch-runner Sarah Zoglin suddenly broke for the plate on a delayed steal. BVC pitcher Ava Hernandez had lobbed the ball to second baseman Breanna Rice to bluff a base-runner back to second, thus springing the daring gambit.
But Rice, the Lions’ only senior starter, tossed to catcher Emily Avila who applied the tag on a close play. BVC kept its lead.
“I heard my teammates yelling, so I threw home,” Rice said. “It happened really fast.”
Los Altos coach Robert Herrera, whose team ran the bases aggressively all afternoon, liked that play’s chances.
“The timing was a little off. It’s worked many times,” he said. “We tried to sneak one in and get an extra one after that.”
Big Valley (22-6) countered with an insurance run on Anni Boren’s run-scoring single. Hernandez retired the Eagles in order in the seventh to start the party.
“This team came a long way,” coach Eric Layman said. “I’m very proud of them for what they've done.”
Big Valley, top-seeded after it won the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII title, entered the title game virtually untested in the regionals. The Lions received a first-round win via COVID forfeit over Prospect, then overpowered Lowell of San Francisco 15-1 in a shortened semifinal.
The home team relied, as usual, on Hernandez (21-5), its poised sophomore. She struck out eight but allowed six hits and was pressured by Los Altos in the middle five innings.
She escaped major damage by keeping Emeline Gaunce and Stefania Bilyeu, Los Altos’ two best hitters, in check. Hernandez held them to a combined 0-for-8, though Gaunce drove in a run and Bilyeu scored one. Overall, Los Altos went 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position.
“We knew she had a rise ball. We were a little too amped up,” Herrera said. “Hats off to her to keep throwing it and keep getting ourselves out.”
Hernandez admitted to some fatigue toward game’s end but kept producing clutch outs.
“I can’t strike everyone out,” she said. “The team came through at the right times. We really improved this year.”
Big Valley’s four-run third started unexpectedly. Los Altos pitcher Sophia Asar, a sophomore lefty, retired the first eight, several on a deceptive changeup.
Olivia Nelson finally reached on a chopper over the head of third baseman Bilyeu, who stumbled. It was the only opening Big Valley needed. Hernandez tripled to left and circled the bases on a throwing error. Avila singled and Beers chased her home on a double to the wall in center. Beers eventually scored on an error.
There is no state final so BVC finished with a shiny championship plaque.