Redemption was on the mind of Clovis High going into the Central Section Division I softball championship. Once the game was under way, merely getting runners on base became a concern.
Stymied for five no-hit innings by Central High ace Gianna Mancha, the Cougars finally broke through.
Grace Henson erased a 1-0 deficit with an RBI single in the sixth, Ashley Kincaid knocked in the go-ahead run in the seventh and No. 4 Clovis defeated No. 2 Central 2-1 on Saturday to cap the annual two-day event that crowned six division champions at Fresno State’s Margie Wright Diamond.
9 Central Section championships for the Clovis High softball program, with the others in 1991, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2007 and 2015
Clovis junior right-hander Danielle Lung kept her team close, striking out 11 in a three-hitter for what historian Bob Barnett said was the Cougars’ ninth section title in the softball program’s history.
“It means a lot,” coach Mike Noel said. “We kind of named this our redemption playoff because the two teams we lost to in the Valley this year in the regular season (Bullard and Clovis) we had to (beat) to win this championship. And I just think that’s quite an accomplishment for these girls.”
Central and Clovis finished the Tri-River Athletic Conference season at 8-2, though the Grizzlies swept the Cougars 2-1 and 3-0 (in eight innings) during the regular year.
A common denominator in Central’s control of the regular-season series? Mancha, a senior right-hander signed by Boise State in November, who was tough again. Just as expected.
The fight they showed throughout the year, the love for each other they showed throughout the year. This is what they do all those great things for.
Clovis coach Mike Noel
“They’re a great team, with a great pitcher,” Noel said. “We knew we’d be in a dogfight. We had two innings where we scrapped for runs. We got big two-out hits, we got bunts down, we played the game the way we play it when we’re at our best.”
And any Bulldogs fans in the crowd at their homefield may have seen one of their future stars in the Fresno State-committed Lung.
“I knew it was going to be low scoring,” Noel said, “those are two great pitchers that have dominated for four years. We’re really happy ours is coming back for one more.”
The Cougars (25-6) also figure to come back to extend their section championship game streak for at least one more year. They beat Central 2-0 in 2015 with Lung throwing a no-hitter as a freshman, then lost 2-1 to Buchanan last season.
While winning 8 of 9 down the stretch, the lone blemish that extra-inning loss to Central, the Cougars denied the Grizzlies (21-8) their third section crown.
Clovis 2, Central 1
WP: Danielle Lung (CG, 11Ks). LP: Gianna Mancha (CG, 6Ks). Cl, McKenzie Byrd 2B, Ashley Kincaid RBI