Nathan Mollat/Daily Journal
Danica Kazakoff, Notre Dame-Belmont’s third baseman, fires a throw to first to complete a double play during the Tigers’ 4-1 win over Pacific Grove in the the CCS Division III tournament.
For the second year in a row, the Pacific Grove softball team traveled to Belmont to face Notre Dame-Belmont in the first round of the Central Coast Section Division III playoffs.
Unlike last year when the Breakers recorded a 3-0 win, the Tigers managed to turn the tables, scoring twice in the bottom of the first inning and adding two more runs in the bottom of the fourth to take a 4-1 decision and advance to Saturday’s quarterfinals.
The fifth-seeded Tigers will face No. 4 Half Moon Bay at a time and place to be determined. Half Moon Bay beat No. 13 Castilleja 12-2 in a game that was halted in the sixth inning because of the 10-run rule.
Notre Dame coach Tara Van Meter said there wasn’t a whole lot to take away from last year’s matchup into Wednesday’s showdown. She just knew the Tigers would have their hands full once again.
“It was good to come out on top this time,” Van Meter said.
The key play in the game came during Notre Dame’s two-run, fourth-inning rally. Nursing a 2-1 lead, No. 9 hitter Jennifer Donohue led off the inning with a 10-pitch walk and Marina Sylvestri followed with a bunt single to bring up Danica Kazakoff, who hit a slow chopper to third base. The third baseman’s throw to first base was in time, but the throw pulled the Pacific Grove first baseman across the bag and Kazakoff ran into her, jarring the ball loose and was called safe.
Donohue, meanwhile, never stopped running from second and scored easily to put the Tigers up 3-1, with Sylvestri moving to third.
Sophia Magnani then followed with a RBI groundout to second base to drive in Sylvestri with what turned out to be the final run of the game.
Kazakoff said she was not intentionally trying to knock the ball loose.
“I was just trying my hardest to beat out the throw and run through the bag,” Kazakoff said.
Van Meter acknowledged that play was the turning point in the game.
“It was huge,” Van Meter said. “[Kazakoff] did exactly what she’s supposed to do. It was smart softball.”
Those two runs gave Notre Dame pitcher Lindsay Mifsud some breathing room and she brought home the win. Mifsud went the distance, allowing just one run while scattering four hits, striking out nine and walking none.
Mifsud got a big boost when she worked out of a first-inning jam. Pacific Grove (12-15) opened the game by getting the first two batters on base. Reeve Grobecker opened with a deep fly ball to left that was mishandled for a two-base error. Tori Harris followed with an infield hit and both runners moved into scoring position on Christina Lucido’s sacrifice bunt.
But Mifsud bore down and got a strikeout and a groundout to get out of the inning unscathed.
“It kept our team’s confidence up and kept Lindsay’s confidence up,” Van Meter said.
The Tigers used that shot of confidence to score twice in the bottom of the inning. Like Pacific Grove, the Tigers got their first two batters of the game on base. Unlike the Breakers, Notre Dame capitalized. Sylvestri led off with a walk and Kazakoff reached on a bunt single. Following a strikeout, Sophia Reyes came to the plate. With the count full, Reyes launched a long fly ball into the right-center field gap for a two-run double and a 2-0 Notre Dame lead.
Pacific Grove cut its deficit in half with a run in the top of the third inning. Leadoff hitter Grobecker bunted and stole second. She went to third on a one-out groundout and scored on Abby Burnei’s infield hit deep in the hole behind second base.
The Breakers, however, would manage only one more hit the rest of the way. The Tigers caught a break in top of the fifth when Grobecker singled with one out, but Tori Harris popped up a bunt that was caught at third base by Kazakoff, who then fired across the diamond to double up Grobecker at first to end the inning.
Despite the win, Notre Dame was not much more successful against Pacific Grove starting pitcher Brianna Harris, who limited the Tigers to just four hits in five innings of work, striking out 11 along the way.
That was balanced out, however, by the fact she walked seven Tigers.
Notre Dame had a chance to put the game away several times, but failed to come up with the key hit more times than not.
“It’s been something that has been a continuous struggle (all season), getting that clutch hit,” Van Meter said. “We work on it in practice. I talk to them about just clearing their minds and getting [the ball] in play.”