WESTON RANCH – The future of Weston Ranch softball is bright.
And lanky … with a smooth left-handed swing.
Elysia Hernandez kicked off the fourth inning of Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to Manteca with a slicing drive down the left-field line.
The ball tailed away from the outfielder’s outstretched mitt, rolling into the shadows of a nearby building.
The freshman, who rocketed out of the batter’s box on contact, glided into third without a slide – and there she stayed.
The Cougars’ future is bright, but their present continues to be haunted by errors, goofs and missed opportunities.
Exhibit A: Tuesday’s loss to the Buffaloes, a team reeling after a 7-2 loss to East Union on Friday.
Weston Ranch (1-2 VOL, 7-4) committed four errors, stranded six base runners and struck out seven times in a Valley Oak League game ripe for the taking.
“We’ve come a long ways. Six years ago, we wouldn’t have been in this game,” Weston Ranch coach Janelle Bauer said. “We just have to get over that hump. … We have the talent. It’s just the execution now.”
The most painful sequence took place in the fourth inning with Hernandez dancing off third with no outs.
The Cougars trailed 1-0, but Bauer was confident the shutout wouldn’t last long. The meat of her lineup was due up.
Peyton Rose had other plans, escaping the jam unscathed. She flipped the ball – and her ponytail – over her shoulder as she trotted off the diamond with her lead still intact.
The Manteca ace retired Weston Ranch’s Nos. 3, 4 and 5 hitters without allowing a ball out of the infield, setting the tone for her eighth victory of the season.
The junior went the distance for the Buffaloes, giving up three runs on three hits in an effective 112-pitch performance.
“She pitched a strong game,” Manteca coach Corey Navarro said.
It helped having a lead.
Celina Cooper doubled and drove in two runs for the Buffaloes, who also got RBIs from freshman Aryanna Martinez and senior Monique Colunga.
The Buffaloes had six hits, including two from Nicole Magnuson. Selena Gonzalez doubled for Manteca, which shook off a loss to East Union in time for a tilt with Kimball.
The Buffaloes (2-1, 8-4) scored once in the first, three times in the fifth and tacked on an insurance run in the sixth.
Manteca hosts Kimball on Thursday. The Jaguars had Sierra on the ropes in their VOL opener Tuesday, but surrendered three runs in the seventh in a 3-1 loss.
“We took a tough loss against East Union, but today we made contact and scored some runs,” Navarro said. “We worked our way out of that (loss). You can’t go into a game like that against Kimball with two losses.
“I wish we would have scored more runs, but it’s a good start for the Kimball game.”
The win also avenged a surprising 6-5 setback to Weston Ranch last spring – Manteca’s first-ever loss to the Cougars. The last two results have Navarro convinced Weston Ranch is a program on the come.
“The last couple of years, she’s turned that program around,” Navarro said, tipping his cap across the diamond to Bauer.
“Last year, they beat us and this was the same type of game. They’re one team that never dies.”
With Hernandez swinging a hot bat, anything is possible.
Hernandez is 6 for 8 in the last two games, including a 4-for-4 performance in a loss to Oakdale last Friday.
Her two-run single in the fifth inning on Tuesday helped put a scare into the Buffaloes. The Cougars scored three runs in the frame, cutting Manteca’s lead to 4-3.
Mia Thurman started the scoring with a double to right field that scored Brianna White, who was plunked by a pitch to start the inning.
Two outs later, Naomi Thurman drew a walk, setting the table for the audacious freshman.
“She’s young,” Bauer said, “but she has a really good feel for the game, offensively and defensively.”
East Union 23, Sonora 0
The Squires (2-0 VOL) needed little help from their usual starters in Tuesday’s three-inning shellacking.
Amy Gann walked three and struck out four in the mercy-shortened no-hitter. Valerie Ramos highlighted the hit fest with an over-the-fence grand slam. Melanie Ramos also homered, and Melissa Hanson went 3 for 4 with two triples and four RBIs.