It wasn’t the sharpest pitching performance by Oakdale’s Shelby Reali, but when the going got tough she and the rest of the Mustangs clutched up in big moments during their 1-0 win at Sierra Monday.
Reali, who issued five walks but struck out 11 in a two-hitter, was able to pitch herself out of jams while also getting bailed out by her always-reliable defense.
Offensively, the Mustangs (10-1, 19-2-1 overall) scratched across an unearned run in the second inning and held on to maintain their lead in the Valley Oak League standings.
Sierra (9-3, 12-4-1) drops to third place with its second 1-0 defeat to Oakdale.
“I knew that no matter what happened my defense would be there to back me up,” Reali said. “They were making the plays, and I know they have the confidence in me to make the pitches.”
Opposite Reali was cannon-armed Allison Walljasper, the 2011 MVP of the league. Walljasper also fanned 11, walked none and gave up three hits.
With the pitchers dealing, it came down to playing defense and capitalizing on opportunities.
Sierra had a chance to break it open in the bottom of the first. Katelyn Salsedo sparked a one-out rally with the first of her two base hits. Walljasper and Sommer Wilson were both walked to load the bases.
Reali needed just seven pitches to strike out the final two batters.
“I thought that was going to be the tone setter of the game,” Sierra coach Nick Olmo said. “We had some great batters come up but we came up short. We had another big opportunity after that, but all game we could not get that big hit.”
Oakdale countered quickly with a scoring chance of its own. Shelby Cordova led off the second with a base hit to right, stole second and reached third on a passed ball. She plated the lone run on an infield error that allowed Stephanie Fauria to reach base. A throwing error would later put a runner on second, but Walljasper escaped with a strikeout.
“Aside from that one inning I thought we did a great job (on defense),” said Olmo, who lauded the stellar play of sophomore shortstop Gianna Lenoci. She made a run-saving dig in the fourth inning, grabbing a solidly-hit ball from Fauria off a short hop and gunning her down at first. Sarah Peterson was left stranded at third.
Sierra’s next best threat came in the fifth when it had Salsedo and Gabby Olmo (courtesy running for Walljasper) on third and second, respectively, with two outs. Reali again got herself out of the rut with a strikeout.
The Timberwolves stranded seven total runners. Oakdale left just three on base, but all were in scoring position.
While still mathematically in the hunt, Sierra is likely out of a three-way race for the championship. The 2011 titlist could have forced a three-way share of first place with a win Monday.
The Timberwolves are up three games on fourth-place Manteca with two to go, so their Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoff spot is secured. The in-town rivals will meet at Manteca today, and Sierra caps the regular season Thursday in Sonora.
“It’s disappointing, but we’re still in the playoffs,” Olmo said. “We just have to take care of the next two teams. We can drop the last two (and still be in the playoffs), but we obviously don’t want to do that.”