That Ashley Kincaid delivered the biggest blow in Clovis High’s 7-5, come-from-behind victory over rival Buchanan in the final of the Clovis Easter Classic softball tournament came as no surprise to Cougars coach Mike Noel.
“She’s done that for us all year,” Noel said of Kincaid, who hit a go-ahead, three-run triple in the sixth inning. “She’s been one of our most clutch hitters, and today was another example of that.”
That Clovis (16-1) won the Central Section’s premier Easter week softball tournament came as little surprise considering the Cougars return several key players from the team that won the 16-team event’s title last season and went on to finish as the runner-up in the Division I playoffs.
“This tournament has most of the Valley’s best and to come out on top is a big statement,” Noel said. “We know we’re a good ball club, but we also know there are a lot of good ball clubs out there, and a lot of them are in our league. Every game we play from here on out is going to be a dogfight. We know that. We feel good about the win, but we’re trying to win the last battle, and this is just sort of a stepping stone to help us achieve that.”
Noel elected not to start Fresno State-bound ace pitcher Danielle Lung in the final after she fired a three-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts during the Cougars’ 3-0 semifinal victory over Hanford West.
Instead, Noel gave the championship-game start to freshman Allie Puente.
Buchanan responded by jumping out to a 5-1 lead before Puente gave way to older sister Emily Puente. The Bears got a run-scoring sacrifice from Avery Lawley in the first, a steal of home from Sugar Gonzalez and a run on a wild pitcher by Emily Cazares in the third, and a two-run triple by Katie Jackson in the fourth.
But Clovis got a run-scoring ground out by Mackenzie Byrd and another run when Jordyn Martinez’s smash to shortstop was played for an error to cut the gap to 5-3 in the fifth.
That set the stage for Kincaid, who ripped a two-out, bases-loaded triple in the sixth to put the Cougars ahead 6-5.
“We’ve left people on base, so I had to do my job,” Kincaid said. “And I wasn’t going to take no for an answer. We all know Molly and what she can do. Seeing her before, I knew I was going to do it and score my players. I was working for Mackenzie Byrd to come up.”
Byrd followed with a run-scoring double for a 7-5 edge.
“I think we just knew we needed to fight,” Byrd said. “And it was super exciting that we were able to come up clutch and do what we needed to do as a team.”
Lung worked out of a two-on, no-out jam in the sixth, then struck out the side after allowing Claire Buckley’s lead-off double in the seventh to earn the win, improving to 15-1. Lung finished with five strikeouts in her second straight victory over Buchanan this season after getting beat by the Bears 2-0 in last season’s D-I final.
“We did what you have to do in those situations, chip away,” Noel said. “We did that. We got it to 5-3, then Ashley came up with bases loaded after a couple quality at-bats to get some runners on, and she crushed that ball. And all of a sudden we have a lead and we start to get Danielle loose and it’s a whole different ball game. It was kind of a dream scenario. Things fell into place exactly how we needed them to. All the credit goes to the girls. They did what they had to do. A lot of teams would quit in that situation, and they had none of that.”