MODESTO – Central Catholic junior Randi Roelling, tall and daunting in the circle, takes a deep breath before each pitch. It’s her pressure release.
“I try to calm my anxiety by breathing,” the lefty said. “Sometimes I forget, and I hear my mom screaming, ‘”Breathe!’”
Roelling required all her poise Tuesday afternoon during the tense 3-1 victory over Oakdale that sent the Raiders to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III title game. The lefty struck out 15 but escaped a season-defining jam in the sixth.
Oakdale, down 3-1, applied pressure by putting the game-tying runs in scoring position with no one out. A walk and a double to deep right by Amanda Bricker nearly tied the game.
“It’s already past. It’s already done,” Roelling assessed at that moment. “Get them out.”
That’s when she exhaled and dealt—popup, strikeout and strikeout.
“She (Roelling) is highly competitive, and we want to win,” Central Catholic first-year coach Sam Nichols said. “I’ve asked everyone to give of themselves and do what it takes.”
It took a little more in the seventh. Oakdale, down to its final strike, stayed alive on Kylie Valente’s single. But Roelling struck out Avery Brown – she doubled home the Mustangs’ only run in the third – to begin CC’s celebration.
Central Catholic’s championship game against Vista del Lago will take place Saturday at 11 a.m. at San Joaquin Delta College. Vista upset top-seeded and previously unbeaten Vanden 3-1.
The Central Catholic-Oakdale showdown, a win-or-go-home affair, had all the feel of a championship game. The teams split their games during the regular season and shared the Valley Oak League title. Oakdale won 1-0 on April 8, and CC answered 2-1 on May 10.
A large crowd jammed into CC’s new Ladd Field – many sat in lawn chairs below umbrellas and awnings behind the outfield fence -- for the rubber game.
“I think I got better in each game,” said Roelling, who has verbally committed to Cal. “I had to because I knew they would get better.”
Roelling’s moxie was hard-earned. Not long before the COVID lockdown in 2020, she was struck by a line drive while playing first base. The left side of her face basically was shattered and her nose was broken. Doctors said her playing days might be over.
So much for that prognosis. She was throwing again in two weeks.
Roelling (17-2) twice has thrown 21-strikeout perfect games, one last year and one this season. And she inspired Central Catholic against Oakdale (26-3-1) by inducing a game-opening flyout and five straight K’s.
The Raiders (26-3-1) responded with all three runs in the second. Delaney Everett, Oakdale’s dominant lefty (13-3), yielded a single to freshman Jazmarie Roberts and tossed two wild pitches and a walk. CC scored when Roberts slid safely at the plate ahead of the tag after Raegan Dickens’ bunt.
Everett’s throwing error plated the second run and Adison Machado’s RBI single capped the rally. Not much separated these teams this season, and neither could have afforded a loose inning. Oakdale stayed close, however, as sophomore Raegan Everett--Delainey's sister--blanked Central Catholic the final four innings.
Larry Loger, Oakdale’s veteran coach, has presided over a program that has won six section championships and four VOL tiles since 2016. Tears were shed post-game by both the Mustangs and their coach.
“I’ve known these six seniors since they were seven,” Loger said. “It’s hard to see them go.”
Oakdale’s season ended while Central Catholic advances to the championship game and a trip to the NorCals. The Raiders no doubt again will rely on Roelling and her swinging left arm.