The Clovis High softball team scored a milestone victory -- and advanced to the quarterfinals of the Central Section Division I playoffs -- using a recipe that's served the Cougars well time and again since the program's launch in 1978: mix timely hitting with solid pitching and spotless defense.
The fifth-seeded Cougars exploded for 13 hits, got a four-hit pitching performance from Jenna Belardinelli and didn't commit an error en route to a 10-0, five-inning mercy-rule defeat of No. 12 Tulare for the 800th win in program history. Clovis moves on to play at fourth-seeded Madera on Thursday.
"That's what Clovis softball has been about over those 800 wins, play the game right and do all the little things," said 16-year Cougars coach Mike Noel. "It's a great milestone. We're happy to be the ones to get 800, but a lot of kids and a lot of teams put in a lot of hard work all the way back to 1978 to accomplish this."
A program that has won seven section titles -- the last coming in 2007 -- and improved to 800-274-8 all-time appears to be peaking at just the right time.
The Cougars were 14-9 through April 19, having just gone through a stretch that saw them open Tri-River Athletic Conference play 2-2 and then go a disappointing 2-3 at the Clovis Easter Classic. Since then, Clovis is 9-2 and looks to be a serious contender for section title No. 8.
"We had a rough patch in the center of the season, but we've been on fire lately," said leadoff hitter Kassidy Walker, who singled three times and scored twice to kick-start Clovis' offense. "We're getting the hits, amazing pitching and great defense."
Clovis (23-11) jumped on Tulare (13-16) for five runs in the bottom of the first inning to take command, with Katie Salisbury contributing a two-run single, Jordyn Diaz an RBI single and Whitney Byrom a run-scoring double.
The Cougars made it 8-0 in the fourth with Alissa Gutierrez hitting a two-run single and Salisbury adding an RBI single.
"We wanted to come out and play our hardest, get ahead and fight to the end," Gutierrez said. "That's Clovis softball. If we keep picking each other up, we can win Valley. Having each other's backs, that's the key."
Belardinelli worked out of jams in the fourth and fifth to make the lead stand up.
She stranded runners at first and second with no outs in the fourth by getting consecutive strikeouts and a flyout to right.
Then, with runners on second and third and one out in the fifth, Belardinelli's defense rose to the occasion. Center fielder Byrom raced in to catch a shallow fly that kept Abbigail Adame from scoring, then first baseman Dana Moritz made a diving stop and recovered in time to throw to second baseman Ciara Camacho -- who was covering the bag at first -- for the final out.
Walker would knock in the ninth run in the bottom of the fifth and score the game-ender on Gutierrez's double.
"We've had some girls hot lately, and that continued today," Noel said. "We can do great things. We're a team that has to play the game right, and that's what we've been doing."