Justine Vela pitched in just six games as a freshman for Stockdale High last season.
But Central softball coach Scott Gorton remembers one of them quite well.
Vela fired a four-hitter in Stockdale's 2-1 victory over Central at the Buchanan Preseason Tournament.
This came only hours after the Grizzlies' 3-1 victory over Mustangs ace and Fresno State-bound MacKenzie Oakes, who would go on to be the MVP of the Southwest Yosemite League during a senior season that saw her allow seven earned runs in 168 innings.
"[Vela] throws a nice rise ball, that was her strikeout pitch, and a good curve or drop curve," Gorton said. "She seems to command the strike zone well. She didn't throw super hard, but has good velocity on her pitches. She's solid."
Gorton's Grizzlies (25-7) get another crack at Vela and the Mustangs (20-7) today during the semifinals of the Central Section Division I playoffs. Second-seeded Stockdale, champion of the SWYL and winner of 10 straight, hosts No. 3 Central at 4:30 p.m.
And the Grizzlies will face a far more seasoned Vela this time around.
The sophomore right-hander is the most statistically dominant pitcher playing for D-I's final four teams with an 18-4 record, 0.25 ERA and 224 strikeouts in 141 innings. Vela has allowed five earned runs all season, three in an early-season loss to Bullard, which entered the playoffs as the top seed.
But this isn't the same Grizzlies' offense Vela faced last season, either.
Central has a team batting average of .307, up from .276 a year ago. And the Grizzlies feature six starters -- Marla Reiter (.414), Amy Paolercio (.318), Morgan Reiter (.366), Julia Alonso (.370), Cierrah Mullin (.288) and Brittny Embrey (.417) -- hitting .288 or better.
"I don't think either team will get a lot of opportunities," Gorton said. "If we can get a clutch base hit, or execute something small, maybe that can be the difference in the game."
On the other side of the D-I bracket, fourth-seeded Buchanan (24-7-1) hosts No. 9 Clovis (22-13) at 4:30 p.m. today. The Bears (three) and Cougars (seven) have combined to win 10 of the past 18 titles in the section's top division.
Last year's finalists are still alive, but it will take upsets for El Diamante-Tulare, Part II to happen.
Top-seeded Tulare Western (25-7) is the hottest team in the division with 10 straight wins behind the bats of MacKenzie Mendonca and Lindsay Vieira and the arm of Brianne Hardman. The Mustangs host the fourth-seeded Miners (22-10), who were D-II runner-ups last season and champions in 2007.
"We've just got to play the same way we have been for the last three, four weeks, hitting the ball and making the plays," Mustangs coach Steve Bullock said. "And we need our pitcher to do what she's been doing all season."
Second-seeded Golden West (21-12), the second hottest team in the division with eight straight wins, hosts defending champion and third-seeded Tulare (24-6-1).
Both games are scheduled for 4:30 p.m. today.
Ninth-seeded Clovis North (16-11-2), a team made up entirely of sophomores and freshmen, bounced top-seeded Golden Valley last week and seeks its second straight upset at 4:30 p.m. today, against No. 4 Hanford West (18-13).
Second-seeded Ridgeview (17-8-1) hosts No. 6 Hanford (13-18) in the other semifinal.
With the top two seeds eliminated, defending division champion Kingsburg moves into the driver's seat.
The third-seeded Vikings (25-8) host No. 7 McLane (15-13) at 4:30 p.m. today for a spot in the finals.
No. 8 Chowchilla (12-18), which upset No. 1 Wasco last week, travels to No. 4 Kerman (27-8), a team the Redskins haven't beaten in two previous meetings.
No. 10 Liberty-Madera Ranchos (14-18-1) made sure there would be a new division champion last week with an upset of second-seeded Fowler.
The Hawks play at No. 3 Firebaugh (21-4-1) at 4:30 p.m. today in a semifinal.
Top-seeded Riverdale (21-7) will be out to beat West Sequoia League rival and fifth-seeded Caruthers (11-11) for the third time this season in the other semifinal.