As the stage brightens, Clovis High freshman Danielle Lung refuses to blink, evident in a 2-0 win over Bullard Tuesday in the semifinals of the Central Section Division I softball playoffs.
Lung had but one 1-2-3 inning and gave up consecutive two-out singles to Ariel Quiroz and Amanda Schoonover in the seventh inning.
But then she promptly fielded Riley’s Van Es first-pitch bunt and threw her out to complete a six-hitter while improving to 20-1 for the 32-6 and top-seeded Cougars.
And Lung will return to the circle at home Thursday, when Clovis guns for its eighth section title in a 4:30 p.m. all-Tri-River Athletic Conference final against No. 2 Central (35-7).
The Grizzlies, who beat No. 6 Hanford West 3-0, had defeated the Cougars twice before bowing 3-0 to Lung’s five-hitter and 12 strikeouts two weeks ago.
Clovis coach Mike Noel actually chuckled when asked if he would start Lung against Central: “Oh, yeah. She’s still kind of a baby girl out there but she’s feeling more comfortable and is in control. She’s facing tough lineups and tough situations, and continues to learn from it.”
Lung, mentored by Cougars assistant Ralph Salazar — long the preeminent softball pitching coach in the Central Valley — threw an extraordinary 77% of her pitches for strikes (72 of 94).
“Coach Ralph has been a calming influence on her and huge in her progression,” Noel said.
The lean 5-foot-10 Lung said in February she hadn’t a clue she would be carrying this level of responsibility in May: “I had no idea I’d have this kind of impact. I was barely playing and, all of a sudden, I was pitching every game.”
Clovis, a year after losing 2-0 at home as a top seed to No. 5 and eventual champion Centennial, supported Lung with clutch defensive plays by right fielder Taylor Tiger and catcher Cameryn Reichle, and the continued steady play of one of the section’s elite players, shortstop Caylor Broussard.
The Cougars scored twice in the second off Bullard senior Claudia Puente on one-out singles by Alyssa Caballero and Tiger, Danielle Stearn’s sacrifice, an RBI single by No. 9-hitting Kennedy Diaz and an error.
▪ D-I: Sophomore Gianna Mancha pitched a one-hitter with 10 strikeouts, Julissa Ponce had a two-run single and Adrianna Martinez scored another on a squeeze bunt for second-seeded Central in a 3-0 defeat of No. 6 Hanford West, which had won a combination of three straight D-II and D-III titles before being promoted. The Grizzlies are in the D-I final for the third time in four years, having won back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013.
▪ D-II: Crimson Kaiser homered and drove in three runs, while Savanah White knocked in four runs as top-seeded Redwood topped No. 5 Tulare Western 13-8, advancing to Thursday’s final against No. 2 Madera, which beat No. 3 El Diamante 3-0 behind a solo homer from Aaliyah Cuevas and two RBIs from Daisha Ricks.
▪ D-III: Renee Ortega hit a rwo-run home run, while Cassidy Santa Cruz (eight) and Arianna Guzman (five) combined for 13 strikeouts as No. 2 Liberty-Madera Ranchos edged No. 3 Tehachapi 4-3 in the semifinals. The Hawks will travel to top-seeded Taft on Thursday for the title after the Wildcats edged No. 5 Dinuba 1-0 in eight innings as Josey Burke knocked in Olivia Ortleib with the winning run.
▪ D-IV: Mariah Mazon pitched a three-hitter with 10 strikeouts and clubbed a two-run home run to power No. 4 Mission Oak to a 6-0 upset of top-seeded Selma. The Hawks will play at No. 2 Wasco in Thursday’s final after the Tigers beat No. 6 Fowler 4-2 behind the 3-for-4, two-run effort of Samantha Martinez.
▪ D-V: Cailey Sanzberro led off the bottom of the fourth with a bunt single and scored on Kayla Hall’s homer to left for the only runs top-seeded Riverdale would need in a 2-1 semifinal win over No. 4 Coalinga. The Cowboys will host No. 7 Sierra Pacific on Thursday after Ally Tolbert and Marissa Enriquez drove in runs during the Golden Bears’ 2-0 victory against No. 3 Kern Valley.
▪ D-IV: Sophia Del Bosque pitched a one-hitter with seven strikeouts, Shantae Rodriguez triggered the offense with a two-run double and Valerie Rodriguez had three bunt singles, three runs and five stolen bases — finishing 30 for 30 in steals this season — as top-seeded Orange beat No. 2 Farmersville 10-0 in five innings for the title. It was the Aztecs’ first section softball title and the fourth in four sports for coach Jacob Huerta. He also has won in baseball, football and girls soccer.
Taj Sangha set the table with 40 assists and Donovan Mitchell had 14 kills and seven digs as top-seeded Buchanan moved a step away from repeating its section title with a 3-0 win over No. 4 Clovis.
The Bears, ranked 14th in the state by MaxPreps, will remain home Friday for the 6:30 p.m. championship against No. 2 Clovis North, which escaped 3-2 against No. 3 Sanger.
Buchanan is 3-0 against the Broncos in a 29-6 season.
Ryan Smith and Patrick Gasman, who will next play at Stanford and Hawaii, respectively, split 22 kills for the Bears.
Bobby Ying contributed 30 assists, 20 digs, six kills and five blocks as Clovis North rallied past Sanger 20-25, 25-17, 19-25, 25-23, 15-11.
Ying, a senior, “played outside of his means,” Broncos coach Jason Powell said.
A sensational dig by sophomore Adam Akhtar late in the fourth game helped Clovis North force a fifth.
Josh Ferraro had 21 kills and 10 digs for the Broncos, who, at 7-3, finished second to 10-0 Buchanan in the TRAC.
Tshu Sue Xiong had 52 assists and 17 digs, Travis Leaxitamy 21 kills and Jose Gomez 19 kills and 17 digs for Sanger, which finished 32-8 after winning the County/Metro Athletic Conference at 10-0.