El Molino edges Santa Rosa 9-8 in softball rematch

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Thanks to a 9-8 extra-innings softball victory Tuesday, El Molino can now claim sole possession of second place in the North Bay League-Redwood Division.

The Lions and the Santa Rosa Panthers softball teams came into the contest tied behind Cardinal Newman, which is undefeated through seven games with three league games left. With Newman’s 25-0 win over Healdsburg Tuesday, the Cardinals can do no worse than a tie for the division title.

Lions pitcher Katelynn Tourady and catcher Erika Olson led their team to a eight-inning win over the host Panthers, knocking Santa Rosa to third place.

Tied after seven, Olson roped a two-run double past Panther center fielder Cheyenne Haines to knock in Natalie Alberigi and Bridget Niclaes to take a 9-7 lead into the bottom of the eighth.

The Panthers scratched one back with three hits in their half on an RBI single by Cori Marchant.

But their burgeoning rally was cut short by an umpire’s call that Cecily Brown ran outside the basepath on a slow-hit ball fielded along the first baseline. The potential winning run was on first.

The confrontation between the two promised to be a clash of evenly matched teams. Both were 4-2 going in. The only other meeting between them this year also took extra innings, and the Panthers emerged victorious in that one, 8-7.

Tuesday’s rematch lived up to expectations.

“They know it’s important,” Santa Rosa coach Jube Begley said before the game. “Second place would give us home-field advantage in the playoffs.”

El Molino was in the same position. And Lions coach Steve Newcomb has been thrilled at how his nine freshmen have battled this season, making this the most successful softball team in school history, he said.

“This is the best I’ve seen this team play all year,” he said. “The girls just didn’t give up and they came through with runs when we needed them.”

The Lions came out hungry, jumping on Panthers pitcher Brown for three runs in the first inning.

Alberigi led off with a walk, then scored on a Niclaes double over the left fielder’s head. Olson followed that with a triple to the right-center gap to score Niclaes, and she scored on a Tourady single to the right side.

El Molino extended its lead to 5-0 after a leadoff walk by Niclaes, who scored on an infield dinker, and on a double steal in which Olson slid under the tag at home.

Santa Rosa scored two in the third when Brown knocked in Hailey Butcher and Marchant, who had back-to-back singles.

Brown’s two-run triple in the right-center gap in the fifth inning brought her Panthers to within 6-4.

In the sixth, Santa Rosa crept to a one-run deficit, 7-6, when Marchant doubled to the base of the center-field fence to score Valerie Bertolini and Kate Price. But the Panthers left the tying run on second.

The Panthers squeezed one across to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh on aggressive base running by Brennan Brown.

She led off with a single and took second on a wild pitch. On a strike to batter Michaela Madden, Brown got caught between second and third, but the second baseman couldn’t handle the pickoff throw.

The ball bounced into short right-center, allowing Brennan Brown to scamper all the way home to force extra innings.

“We hit when we needed to hit, made big plays when we needed to make big plays,” Newcomb said. “It’s games like this that show character.”

Even up 5-0, he said he knew the lead wasn’t safe.

“I feel we were pretty evenly matched,” he said. “But I’m even more excited about how my freshmen played. I can’t wait until the upcoming years.”

Olson, who went 4 for 5 with two runs scored and three runs batted in — including the two go-ahead runs in the eighth — complimented the Panthers on a hard-fought, emotional game.

“Even if we had lost, I would have told them it was a great battle,” said the senior, who is headed to play softball at Mendocino College next year.

The Lions are now 5-2 in the NBL-Redwood Division and 9-8 overall, while Santa Rosa falls to 4-3 and 5-12.

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