STOCKTON — No. 1 Ripon Christian found itself in a rare position Tuesday but was able to battle back from its first deficit of the postseason thanks to the hot bat of Katie O’Leary and defeat No. 3 Stone Ridge Christian of Merced 2-1 in the semifinal of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII softball playoffs at Arnaiz Field.
Ripon Christian will face Stone Ridge Christian again today at 4 p.m. in the championship round, its first in school history for softball. A win by Ripon Christian clinches the section banner and a loss forces a winner-take-all finale to follow. Stone Ridge defeated No. 5 Valley Christian 5-2 in the consolation semifinal Tuesday night.
Stone Ridge Christian (18-6) took a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning when Hannah Nelson led off the frame with a single and came in on Eleanor Nelson’s double. Stone Ridge Christian ended up getting runners to second and third with no out but Ripon Christian pitcher Madison DeGraaf kept the ball in the infield the rest of the way with two groundouts and a pop fly ending the threat.
One of only two seniors on the Ripon Christian roster, she answered back in the bottom of the frame with a solo home run to tie the game at 1-1.
“When you are going to hit a home run, you either hit the ball really well or you look for the mistake,” O’Leary said. “I don’t know which one it was but I saw it and I hit it. That’s all I know.”
O’Leary led off the bottom of the sixth with a double and scored when Elizabeth Thomas snuck a grounder between shortstop and second base for an RBI single.
“If I was looking for a home run on that double, I would have overswung and got out,” O’Leary said. “But once I did my job and went for the line drive, I knew that Elizabeth (Thomas) was going to pick me up.
“She’s a great player.”
Thomas made sure not to chase any high pitches when she got her RBI single.
“I was hoping I was not going to pop up because I popped up other at-bats,” Thomas said. “And I knew I had to hit the ball and get her (O’Leary) around.”
DeGraaf allowed just three hits and struck out seven. Stone Ridge Christian got a runner to second with two out in the seventh, but DeGraaf induced a short fly on a bunt attempt. Charging from third base on the bunt, Nicole Chapman reacted quickly and grabbed the fly to end the game before it could fall to the ground.
“I was thinking that I couldn’t drop it,” Chapman said of the last out.
Ripon Christian coach Lenny Rizzuto repeatedly told his girls to lay off the rise ball, and when they did they were able to get the win.
“It was a grind-out game,” Rizzutto said. “Their pitcher was a good pitcher and had a nice rise going and we kept telling our girls to lay off it and they wouldn’t.
“Finally in the later innings when they finally did realize they needed to lay off of that pitch their pitcher had to bring it down. Once she brought it down we were able to hit the ball.”