Through two games in the Central Coast Section Division II bracket, Hillsdale pitcher Kealani Cardona has allowed just three hits.
All those hits came in the No. 3-seed Lady Knights’ CCS opener.
In Monday’s quarterfinal matchup with No. 11 Monte Vista Christian-Watsonville (13-10), Cardona fired a six-inning no-hitter as Hillsdale (16-7) rallied late for an 11-0 mercy-rule win, including nine runs in the bottom of the sixth with a walk-off three-run home run by Hannah Levy to end it.
“I didn’t think the game was going to end like that,” Cardona said. “It was a really cool way to end it. I definitely thought we were going to have to go back out on defense one more time. But to be able to end the game like that, it was really exciting. And I think it’s going to give us a lot of momentum for (the semifinals) Thursday, so it’s really nice.”
Cardona — aka Kealani Kaufusi, though her legal surname is Cardona, she said — allowed just one base runner on a second-inning walk. Bouts of wildness have given the senior left-hander problems this season — she has issued 41 free passes in 99 innings — but she bounced back to set down the last 15 batters she faced.
“What we told her today is to make sure to go after them and throw them strikes,” Hillsdale head coach Kelly McDonald said. “Trust your defense behind you. If they put the ball in play, that’s good.”
But Monte Vista only put the ball in play four times all day. Cardona matched her career-high with 14 strikeouts, and fanned the last eight batters she faced.
“I think I was just really focusing on being calm and not overthinking too much,” Cardona said. “Because when I do that, I get in my head and it doesn’t really work in my favor. So today, if I ever really got anxious or anything, I’d just calm down and the calm really helped me.”
The game was the closest 11-0 game you’re ever going to see though. It was scoreless through four innings before Hillsdale caught a break in the fifth to get on the board with two runs.
Monte Vista pitcher Sam Baer was battling through trouble all day. The Knights stranded five runners through the first five frames, including leaving the bases loaded in the second. But in the fifth, with one out, Hillsdale senior Brianna Santos lifted a high fly ball to left that saw the Monte Vista left fielder circling under it until she caught a spike on the turf, allowing for the ball to drop in for a one-out triple.
After a walk to junior Sophia Eftekahri put runners at the corners, Baer battled to get the second out of the inning on a popup to short. But Hillsdale cleanup hitter Mika Chong followed with a gritty at-bat, falling behind in the count 1-2 before scorching a liner through the infield that found a seam through the left-center gap for a two-run triple.
“Mika Chong is a professional hitter,” McDonald said. “She can hit any pitcher, she can hit with absolutely anybody at any level. … Any time I want a hitter up at bat, Mika Chong is the one that definitely [is] confident with the bat in her hand.”
With the way Cardona was dealing, it seemed two runs would be enough. But in the bottom of the sixth, Hillsdale sent 11 batters to the plate to rally for the walk-off win. Levy had two hits in the frame, including an RBI single to score the first one of the frame. Bella Carreon and Caitlin Regan then each singles, Santos and Addison Eftekhari reached on errors, and Chong walked to end Dean’s day.
“[Dean] reared back and threw hard … then I think she go a little bit tired,” Monte Vista coach Sissy Selden said.
Facing a Monte Vista reliever, Kaufusi got hit by a pitch and Kiana Castro lifted a sacrifice fly. Then Levy socked a drive to left center and circled the bases for a three-run homer to end it via 10-run mercy rule.
“Unfortunately, the way the scoreboard shows doesn’t define who this team is or how we played,” Selden said. “We held them scoreless four innings. Then we had a few errors and the wheels fell off the wagon. They didn’t hang their heads. They hit the ball and we didn’t.”
Hillsdale has now outscored opponents 22-1 through two CCS victories.
With Monday’s win, Hillsdale advances to the Division II semifinals Thursday to take on No. 10 Aptos at Los Gatos High School. First pitch is schedule for 4:30 p.m.
McDonald said the Cardona not having to throw the seventh inning could benefit Hillsdale’s ace southpaw going forward.
“Once we got a lot of runs, keeping in mind that we play again on Thursday, hopefully playing again on Saturday, those pitches are very important,” McDonald said. “I definitely wanted to save her.”