Thursday’s softball season finale for the Santa Clara Bruins wasn’t a must-win, but it was nonetheless a highly competitive contest against the Homestead Mustangs. Each side entered the game with identical 7-4 records, tied for third place in the De Anza League standings. The top-3 finishers in the league receive automatic bids to the CCS playoffs. However, according to Bruins Head Coach John Rahbar, the fourth-place finisher in this case had a “95 percent chance” of qualifying based on CCS’ point system. That system takes into consideration overall performance and strength of schedule. With no worse than a 7-5 record and a strong schedule, the Bruins had essentially clinched a playoff berth prior to first pitch.
Despite having a playoff spot all but guaranteed, the Bruins still wanted to finish as high in the standings as possible. A win for them actually meant finishing second in league, based off tiebreakers. Not to mention, an 8-4 record looks especially good for a team playing its first season in the competitive De Anza League. Unfortunately for Santa Clara, they would end up losing to the Mustangs in eight innings, 4-3.
The game started out well for the Bruins as they took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first. Senior shortstop Hailey Hiett led off the game with a single through the five-and-a-half hole. She would later score on a solid single by Alyson Teixeira. The senior first baseman smoked a line drive into the hole between first and second.
“I felt very relaxed, Brittany [Prock] is a very good pitcher, so you have to be prepared for anything, especially with two strikes,” commented Teixeira about her day at the plate (1-2 with a walk and a sacrifice bunt). “I was just staying relaxed and going after the pitches I wanted.”
With the score still 2-0 in the bottom of the third, things started to get weird for the Bruins. With Hiett out of the game due to illness, second baseman Vanessa Bontrager moved over to shortstop. Bontrager’s highlight-reel-leaping grab on a line drive helped prevent a larger rally, but a couple of Bruins errors helped the Mustangs tie the score at two.
Santa Clara appeared unfazed though as they retook the lead immediately in the top of the fourth. With two outs and nobody on, Hiett’s replacement Nevaeh Tamaya reached on an infield single to third base. She then stole second before scoring on single by center fielder Anjelina Manuel.
The 3-2 lead didn’t last long. In the bottom of the fourth, an unfortunate two-base error allowed a leadoff walk to come all the way around and score. Despite the defensive mistakes behind her, Bruins starting pitcher Kathryn Caravalho remained poised and finished the inning strong. At one point she even executed a quality 3-2 pitch for an inning-ending groundout after looking perplexed that the previous pitch wasn’t called a strike.
“She does a very good job,” agreed Teixeira on Caravalho’s poise. “She stays very calm, we try to back her up as much as we can.”
The Bruins nearly retook the lead again in the top of the seventh. Manuel led off with a single, before being sacrificed over to second base by Teixiera. With two outs, third baseman Rosie Quezada would single up the middle, but Manuel would be thrown out at the plate to end the inning.
In the eighth inning the Mustangs would walk-off victorious on a bang-bang play at the plate. A one-out drive to the wall in left field ended up scoring the winning run from second base. The runner had to hold up in case the ball was caught, so the relay from the outfield to the plate actually beat the runner home. However, the ball just barely got there first and Bruins catcher Natasha Sachdeva wasn’t able to hang on to a low throw. Sachdeva had to try and make a quick tag while the runner almost simultaneously barreled into her with a hard slide.
Santa Clara takes on Watsonville in the first round of CCS on May 17.