Syrena Garcia helped place the Clovis East High softball team into previously uncharted territory Monday afternoon at the Buchanan Softball Complex.
Garcia ripped a game-tying, run-scoring double off Boise State-bound pitcher Gianna Mancha and eventually scored the winning run on Taniya Maldonado’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the seventh inning to send the Timberwolves over Central 3-2 on Monday and into the semifinals of the Clovis Easter Classic.
It’s the first time in program history that Clovis East (13-5) has been among the final four teams with a shot at winning the Central Section’s premier Easter-week softball tournament. The Timberwolves will face Buchanan on Field 1 in one semifinal, while Clovis takes on Hanford West on Field 2 in the other. Both semifinals are set for 2 p.m. Tuesday, with the final at 4:30 p.m. on Field 1.
“I was just thinking this is for my team because we’ve come this far and worked so hard,” Garcia said. “I was just going to give it my all. No matter what it took, I was just going to hit. I was just thinking ‘hit, hit, positive mind.’ I wasn’t thinking anything else.”
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Central appeared headed for a third straight Easter Classic final heading into the bottom of the seventh inning with ace right-hander Mancha set to face the Nos. 6-8 hitters in Clovis East’s lineup, a group who were a combined 0 for 6 with five strikeouts to that point.
But after striking out Kassandra Expose to open the inning, Mancha walked Emilee Lear. Courtesy runner Tiffany McMahon then scored from first as Garcia hit a shot that nearly cleared the fence in right-center. Garcia took third on a throw home attempting to get McMahon, then scored easily when Maldonado sent a shot to deep left.
“I thought it was going to be over the fence,” Garcia said. “But I’m just glad we got the run in.”
Before going 19-10 last season under former coach Bryce Kamimoto, Clovis East hadn’t had a winning season in seventh years and had finished above .500 only twice in the previous 10 seasons.
“We’re starting to make a little noise,” Timberwolves coach Kellen Kumo said. “You know, last year was a successful year for this program and this year, hopefully, we can build off the big wins. Beating Gianna is always good. Hopefully we’re building a different culture at Clovis East.”
Clovis East opened with a 3-1 win over El Diamante, a traditional Division II contender.
“Beating quality teams is always important. And with the whole TRAC being in this tournament, that’s quality teams,” Kumo said. “You know, it’s not so much about winning the whole thing, obviously it would be nice, but at the same time, it’s playing quality teams and getting better and focusing on what we need to do.”
Buchanan (11-4) earned its spot in the semifinals by banging out a combined 28 hits in a 10-0 opening round win over Orange Cove and an 8-3 defeat of reigning section Division II champ Madera in the semifinals. Claire Buckley double, tripled and drove in three runs while Emily Casares had three singles and scored three times against the Titans, while Anni Raley homered and knocked in two runs and Sugar Gonzales had three hits against the Coyotes.
Hanford West (16-1-1) rode pitcher Brianna Leasure’s four-hitter to a 3-1 win over Selma in the quarterfinals. The Huskies opened 12-7 win over Edison featuring a 12-hit attack led by Jordyn Macias (2 for 3, home run, four RBIs), Allison Heffley (2 for 3, triple, RBI) and Anika Castallanos 3 for 4, double, three RBIs).
Hanford West, which competes in Division III or lower in most sports, is in its third season as a D-I softball program and boasts the section’s second highest collective batting average among D-I teams who keep their statistics on maxpreps.com.
“We’re not scared to play anybody,” Huskies coach Russ Heffley said. “We’ve kind of taken that chip on our shoulder from day one when we were put in Division I. It’s like, hey, we’re the little kid on the block so we’ve got nothing to lose. Let’s go put it all on the field.”
Clovis (14-1) reached the semifinals by beating Redwood 4-2 behind a 16-strikeout performance from Danielle Lung after opening with a 7-5 win over Reedley that saw Tori Mueller delivered a double and two RBIs.