Winless after three non-league games against stiff competition, Sierra went into its Valley Oak League opener at upstart Manteca with just one run and three hits on the season.
The Timberwolves busted out of their slump Thursday and threatened to pull off an upset, trailing by a run after five innings. Then Manteca had a breakout of its own, sending 12 runners to the plate in the bottom of the sixth to race away with a 12-4 victory.
Senior Rayana Ladd helped unlock the Buffaloes’ attack with a solo homer and RBI double, while freshman pitcher Isabel Tonna rung up 14 strikeouts against only one walk. Elon James (2 for 4, walk) and Alesia Harris (1 for 2, walk, HBP) both contributed a two-run single during that sixth-inning onslaught.
“You see their record and you see our record, and you just never know with rivals,” Manteca coach Josh Farris said. “All three schools in town, it doesn’t matter what people’s records are when it comes to these rivalries. When you’re up against a rival, you know they’re going to compete, and we have a lot of young girls who haven’t experienced an in-town rivalry yet.”
The Buffaloes improved to 9-1 and have some tough games ahead with Oakdale and Kimball next week. They were coming off a disappointing loss to unbeaten Ripon. Sierra dropped to 0-4 — albeit against teams with a combined 20-3 record — but comes away feeling encouraged.
“We played them tough,” Sierra coach Mike James said. “I’m super pumped, because the one thing that I’ve had to address with them every week was our offense. We’re averaging 12-14 strikeouts a game. We struck out a lot again today, but the difference was we put the ball in play. We’ve only had three hits the entire year. Today, we had seven and a couple of them were extra-base hits. We also ran the bases very well. I didn’t even know we could run the bases because we haven’t been able to get on.”
Manteca mashed four of its six hits in the devastating sixth-inning rally in which the Buffs plated seven runs. They were issued 16 free passes, 12 via walks and four batters were hit by pitches.
Ladd (2 for 3, walk, three runs) gave Manteca a 2-0 lead with her solo bomb to center field in the second inning. She just missed another homer with two runners on base in the sixth-inning rally and settled for the double.
“We kid that she always comes up big against Sierra,” Farris said. “(After the first home run), I thought she was going to hit two more and that second one almost went out. She seems to just thrive under these situations. I think she’s just a player everyone enjoys to be around and so we all root for her, so it was awesome for us to see her have the day that she had.”
Sierra tied the game at 2-2 in the third inning when freshman Giovanna Garcia blasted an RBI double and was followed by Maitland Kohoutek’s RBI single.
The Timberwolves closed in 5-4 in the top of the fifth, as Breanna Tyler drove in Garcia with a hit and was sent home by Kohoutek’s double to deep left.
Kohoutek, also a freshman, finished 3 for 3 with two RBIs. Garcia went 2 for 4.
Kohoutek said that facing some tough pitching in non-league play helped prepare her team for the VOL opener, though playing Manteca gave the players some added motivation.
“Honestly, it was just the cross-town rivalry,” she said. “That’s kind of a big deal. I have a lot of friends on this team, so I want to beat them.”
Manteca also boasts a strong core of freshmen that has continued to earn the trust of its coach. Farris opted to roll with Tonna in the pitcher’s circle, while junior ace Nayellys Torres played in right field Tuesday and made five plate appearances.
“Nayellys is working through some stuff, and we’re trying to keep her fresh for our two big games next week, too,” Farris said. “Bel’s kind of earned it. She has pitched some good (bullpen sessions) and she pitched well again today. She doesn’t have the experience that Nayellys does pitching in big games, but that comes with doing this stuff and actually experiencing it.
“I was really pleased with Bel, she kept us in it. I told her to not give up any free passes and she did a great job of letting our defense play. She also had a lot of those strikeouts.”
For Tonna, it comes down to confidence, no matter the situation. She never appeared to get rattled when Sierra strung together big hits. She got out of the third by striking out the side after allowing Sierra to plate its first two runs and was at her best later in the game. Tonna retired the final seven batters she faced, striking out four in a row, at one point.
“My thing is to just throw strikes with confidence,” she said. “Even if we’re down, just keep throwing with confidence.”