SAN JOSE — It was a little past 6 p.m. Thursday evening when the clock struck midnight for the San Mateo softball team.
When Haybalers’ first baseman Samantha Sanchez gathered up Kendall Richards’ slow roller and stepped on the bag to end San Benito’s 5-0 win, it ended the 11th-seeded Bearcats’ improbable Central Coast Section run to the Division I semifinals at PAL Stadium in San Jose.
“I’m so proud of them,” San Mateo head coach Alyssa Jepsen said of her team. “The program, in two years, is doing a great job.”
For the second game in a row, San Mateo (13-10) was the higher seed. But unlike last Saturday’s dramatic 9-8 win over No. 14 Presentation, there would be no heroics against the 15th-seeded ’Balers.
In fact, San Benito (17-13) put the pressure on the Bearcats right away, scoring three, two-out runs in the top of the first inning. San Mateo had a chance to get out of the inning unscathed, but a series of small mistakes added up to a trio of runs for the Haybalers.
“The first inning kills us every single time,” Jepsen said.
While there was only one official error in the inning — a throwing error on the San Mateo catcher — there were a few other bobbles and missed plays that cost the Bearcats. Whether it was pitcher Sage Hager hitting the San Benito clean-up hitter on the elbow with two strikes, or Jordan Seyfried not able to throw out any of four base stealers in the opening inning, or a hesitation in the outfield that allowed a ball to drop in for a hit, San Mateo was just a little bit sloppy and the Balers made them pay.
“You can’t wait until the second or third inning to say, ‘OK. I’m warm,’” Jepsen said. “Once you step on that field, you have to be ready to go.”
Hager got the first two batters on popouts to start the game before No. 3 hitter Dominique Monteon singled to center. When clean-up hitter Madison Greco was plunked on the elbow on a 2-2 pitch, San Benito had a rally started. Noel Chavarria followed with an RBI single to center, Greco and Chavarria pulled off a double steal, with Greco scoring and Chavarria going to third when the throw down to second got past the Bearcats’ defense. Julia Woeste then capped the inning with an RBI infield hit.
The Haybalers knocked Hager around for most of the game, finishing with five runs on 13 hits.
But Hager did have some good moments. She retired the side in order in the third and sixth innings, and escaped a bases-loaded jam with a strikeout in the seventh.
But San Benito put the bat on the ball more than enough to come away with the victory.
San Mateo, meanwhile, did a decent job of making contact against San Benito starting pitcher Amanda Moisa, but a number of Bearcats’ balls were hit right at Haybaler defenders. San Mateo finished with just five hits for the game and did not have more than one in any inning.
On top of that, the Bearcats were suckers for Moisa’s out pitch — a fastball that she put on the outside part of the plate. It was a pitch too close to take, but San Mateo could not do anything with it otherwise as Moisa finished with six strikeouts in five innings of work.
“And it wasn’t even a strike,” Jepsen said. “We have to at least be able to put the ball in play. It’s all about becoming a student of the game.”
Shortstop Izzy Borges had the only loud hit for the Bearcats, as she blasted a booming ground-rule double in the first inning that hit the warning track just in front of the 230-foot sign in the left-field corner and bounced over the wall. She went to third on a Giuliana Selvitella flyout to right field, but a strikeout ended what turned out to be San Mateo’s best scoring chance.
San Benito increased its lead to 4-0 with a run in the top of the second as Amber Rodriguez drove in Kaiya Dickens, who had led off the inning with a single.
The Haybalers capped the scoring with another run in the fifth with Woeste plating Monteon.
Monet Scheller singled in the second for San Mateo, while Jada Walker beat out a bunt for the Bearcats’ third-inning hit. Selvitella singled to right in the fourth and Seyfried’s single to center in the seventh was the final knock for the Bearcats.
Jepsen was philosophical following the game, knowing that with more experience, the Bearcats should be in the running to be a perennial CCS-caliber team.
“You have to be put in situations like this to learn from it,” Jepsen said.