Emily Puente capitalized on her opportunity in a big way Monday afternoon.
Getting the start in Clovis High School’s biggest game of the softball season so far, the sophomore pitched a five-hitter and came up with a crucial hit to lead the Cougars, top-ranked in the Central Section by The Fresno Bee, over No. 2 Central 9-1 in the final of the Clovis Easter Classic.
“I felt pretty confident,” said Puente, the Cougars’ No. 2 pitcher. “I had the game under control. This opportunity was great. Whenever I get the chance to pitch for this team, it means a lot.”
Puente was literally inches from a shutout, as the Grizzlies’ only run scored when Kourtney Dillard narrowly beat out an infield single to shortstop with two outs in the top of the third. And Dillard batted with an RBI opportunity only after Arianna Navarrete beat out a similarly close play at first for an infield single.
Danielle Lung – who went 21-1 as a freshman last season with a 1.16 ERA while leading Clovis to the Division I championship – is the Cougars’ ace. She shut out Central twice down the stretch after the Grizzlies beat the Cougars 4-2 in last season’s Easter Classic final and 3-2 in the first round of Tri-River Athletic Conference play.
Clovis coach Mike Noel said he pitched Puente over Lung on Monday for two reasons: to give Puente a shot in a challenging situation and limit Central’s exposure to Lung with two TRAC games approaching.
We wanted to give Emily a big game in this tournament and I’m very proud of how she handled it.
Clovis softball coach Mike Noel on sophomore Emily Puente
“We wanted to give Emily a big game in this tournament, and I’m very proud of how she handled it,” Noel said. “We were looking for Emily to step up and she gave us exactly what we needed.”
Puente also contributed a three-run double as Clovis opened a 4-1 lead in the bottom of the third.
The Cougars expanded the lead to 9-1 with a five-run fifth, with Mackenzie Byrd’s two-run single the key hit of the inning. Ashley Kincaid added a run-scoring double and Taylor Tiger an RBI single.
“I was looking for my inside pitch,” Byrd said. “That’s what we’ve been working on. It was great to help my team.”
While the marquee final matchup of Clovis-Central materialized, the anticipated pitching duel between Lung and Grizzlies ace Gianna Mancha did not.
Neither Mancha nor Central’s No. 2, Ciera Montalvo, pitched during the Easter Classic because of arm injuries. Grizzlies coach Scott Gorton said he expects both to be fine for the start of league play.
“I was very proud of my team to get to this level not at full strength,” said Gorton, who praised Breanna Martin for pitching Central into the final.
Martin, a junior, hadn’t pitched a complete game since the eighth grade when she beat Madera on Thursday, then recorded tournament wins over Lemoore and El Diamante on Saturday and Buchanan earlier Monday.