Nathan Mollat/Daily Journal
Carlmont shortstop Christy Peterson, left, and first baseman Gabby Pons, right, congratulate pitcher Rebecca Faulkner following the Scots’ 4-3 semifinal win over Wilcox Thursday. All three played key roles in sending the Scots to the CCS Division championship game Saturday.
With Thursday’s 4-3 win over fifth-seeded Wilcox, the top-seeded Carlmont softball team advances to the Central Coast Section Division I championship game for the second time in three years.
“It was a little tighter than I wanted,” said Carlmont coach Jim Liggett, whose Scots will play for the program’s elusive eighth CCS title Saturday against No. 3 San Benito, the eight-time defending champion.
“Thank goodness for Pons. She had a phenomenal game.”
That would be Carlmont first baseman Gabby Pons, who should change her last name to “Pounds” because that’s what she has been doing the last three games — pounding the ball all over the park.
Thursday, Pons hit a pair of towering home runs and drove in three of the Scots’ four runs.
If the temporary fence erected for Saturday’s quarterfinal games at Hawes Park had been put up Thursday, Pons would have been 3 for 3 with three homers. Her second-inning drive to deep left field was caught for an out, but would have easily been over the temporary fence.
The field manager of Hawes Park said with rec league games scheduled for after the CCS game, he did not have the time or manpower to disassemble the fence in time.
“Just keeping my eye on the ball and lots of practice,” was how Pons described her current hot streak of four home runs in her last three games, including three in two CCS games. She also hit one in the regular-season finale against Sequoia.
“Seeing the ball is a lot of it and waiting for the right pitch.”
Her two-run bomb to left-center field in the bottom of the sixth turned out to be crucial because while it put Carlmont up 4-1, it also gave them enough breathing room when Wilcox struck for a pair of runs in the top of the seventh to close to 4-3.
But Carlmont pitcher Rebecca Faulkner got the final three Chargers batters — punctuating the win with a strikeout to end it.
Faulkner, who will play at U.C. Riverside on a full softball scholarship next season, admitted the erratic strike zone of the home-plate umpire had her seething at times during the game in which she allowed three runs on five hits while striking out eight Wilcox batters.
“I definitely got frustrated,” Faulkner said. “All you can do is trust your pitches.”
After giving up a run in the first inning on a pair of hits, Faulkner settled into a groove. She retired the side in order in the second before the Chargers had three runners reach in the third inning — a single, walk and fielder’s choice — but Wilcox came up empty as Faulkner induced a comebacker to end the Chargers’ threat.
The final out of the third inning was the first of 10 straight batters Faulkner retired until Hailey Thompson led off the top of the sixth inning with a double, which was followed by a two-run homer off the bat of Katie Stensrud.
“Faulkner was her tenacious self,” Liggett said. “(But) she struggled at times.”
Wilcox (22-8) jumped on Carlmont (26-3) quickly, taking a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Morgan Ratliff led off the game with a single to left and, with Savannah Montez at the plate, Ratliff stole second and moved to third on a passed ball. Montez ended up walking to put runners on the corners before the Chargers used a delayed double steal to get on the scoreboard. Montez was thrown out at second, but Ratliff scored on the back end to take a 1-0 lead.
Carlmont went quietly in the first before erupting for two runs in the bottom of the second inning. The left-handed batting Pons led off the inning and yanked a drive deep down the right-field line that landed just fair and rolled to the fence 270 feet away. By the time the Chargers relayed the ball back to the infield, Pons had come all the way around to tie the score at 1.
Following a groundout, Christy Peterson came to the plate and hit an opposite-field single to left. The Wilcox left fielder misplayed the bounce, however, with the ball glancing off her glove and rolling to the base of the fence 260 feet away from home plate. That enabled Peterson to motor around the bases for the second run of the inning to put the Scots up 2-1.
Carlmont had a golden opportunity to add a run in the bottom of the fourth when Mariko Kondo led off the inning with one of the longest fly balls at Hawes Park in CCS history. Her blast hit midway up the fence in left field gave her an easy double, but she was thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple.
Again, if the temporary fence was up, it would have been a majestic home run.
“That had to be 280 feet,” Liggett said of Kondo’s drive.
The Scots did add two insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth. Faulkner led off with a single to right to bring up Pons. After failing to put down a bunt, Pons ran the count full before unloading on a pitch and driving it deep to the fence in left-center field.
Faulkner all but jogged around the bases and was followed closely by Pons for her second homer of the day.
Although she was told to do it, Pons admitted she really didn’t want to put down a sacrifice bunt. She said her two attempts came on pitches that were on the outside of the plate.
“No, I did not want to (bunt),” Pons said. “I tried to get it, but I took my eye off the ball.”
Once she got to two strikes, however, she was free to swing away.
“That’s my girl,” Faulkner said of Pons. “I just love watching her play. We’re close friends so it’s nice to see her have success.”
Now the Scots will get another crack at San Benito in the Division I finals 3 p.m. Saturday at San Jose’s PAL Stadium. The Haybalers have been a thorn in the Scots’ side for years, beating them for the championship in 2007 and 2012.
Despite their previous frustrations, the Scots believe this is the year they finally get over on San Benito.
“[Faulkner] has to pitch well, we have to play good defense and we have to put runs on the board,” Liggett said.
Said Faulkner: “I honestly think we can do it.”