Ripon made good use of its first-round bye in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs.
The second-seeded Indians were able to give rest to a couple ill-stricken players and worked on specific in-game situations.
It paid off in their quarterfinal clash with visiting West Park of Roseville on Thursday, as heads-up base-running in the fourth inning was the difference in the 2-0 victory.
Ripon (14-4) also had a masterful pitching performance from Kharime Caratachea, whose two-hitter was highlighted by outstanding plays from the defense.
“That was one of the things that we wanted to work on, was the small-ball aspect of what we’re trying to do,” Ripon coach Tanner Jordan said. “We actually worked on it the day before in practice. We took a lot of time in practice just to talk about different scenarios.
“I’m very thankful for the team, because in those moments of learning they really lock in and ask questions. As a coach, that’s all I can ask for is their attention. It shows that they were paying attention today, because that heads-up base running is what got us our two (runs). It was great to see them take it. All the credit to them for being able to execute.”
Freshman clean-up batter Izabelle Spurzem started the fourth-inning rally with a sharp single to left and advanced to second on a steal. Ripon was fortunate on the steal attempt, as West Park shortstop Sadie Stout dropped the ball while applying the tag.
Katie Rhodes reached when she beat the throw to first on a sacrifice bunt, putting runners on the corners with no out.
Chloe Lautenslager followed with a bunt of her own, but Spurzem was forced out at home on the throw from third baseman Maycee Needles. That was when the Indians got aggressive on the base paths, spurring a wild rundown that plated the first run. With the ball going to the plate, Rhodes kept running until she wound up at third base. The West Park infield’s attention then shifted toward Lautenslager as she bolted for second.
That was Rhodes’ cue to head home.
The seventh-seeded Panthers (9-10) were well aware of her intentions, but Rhodes managed to evade the tag from catcher Mia Kinsey near the middle of the base line.
“There was a lot going on, but when I saw that they threw it to second I was already kind of off the bag, so I just ran,” Rhodes said. “She (Kinsey) was in my way, so I kind of ran around her and it worked out.”
Jordan who is also the third-base coach, said that was all Rhodes.
“I told her ‘Watch the throw, watch the throw,’ and as soon as it was thrown (to second) she went,” he said. “She did a great job of getting around the tag. She’s a very smart on the bases. It was good to see her take the initiative without me having to say, ‘go.’”
Ripon was not done yet. Ava Brocchini looped a single over the first baseman, and Jaycee Wilmshurst drove in Lautenslager with hit up the middle.
Rhodes finished 2 for 3, and Addison Naranjo smacked a one-out double in the third. The Indians totaled seven hits. West Park freshman pitcher Jessica Cochran struck out three and walked one.
Caratachea took care of business from the circle. She finished with 12 strikeouts, no walks and two hit batters. West Park threatened in the second inning when it got both of its hits with two outs. Stout reached with a weakly-hit infield single, and Kayla Bowles followed with a hit to left. Caratachea escaped further damage with a strikeout.
“I really wanted to come out here with a clear mind set and not underestimate any team,” Carattachea said. “I just came out here throwing loosely and throwing like I know how to. I believed in myself and I believed in my team. It wasn’t a sure thing if we were going to win today, but we rallied to put enough hits together and we all played together as a team.”
She was aided by an error-free defense that robbed Kinsey, West Park’s top hitter, of two multiple-base hits. In the fourth, she sent a deep drive down the first-base line only to have it caught by a diving Peyton Naranjo. Then in the seventh, Kinsey clobbered an 0-2 offering deep to the left-center field gap. Centerfielder Ava Brocchini was able to track it down and catch it on the run.
“Had some awesome hustle plays from our outfielders, really just putting their bodies on the line,” Jordan said. “You can tell they understood this was a playoff game and what was at stake. They hustled their tails off today.”
Ripon also turned a strikeout-throw-out double play to end the fifth, with catcher Alana Hernandez throwing out Stout trying to steal second.
“Defense locked it down and helped me in tough situations,” Caratachea said. “It’s not a one-man team, it’s a whole unit.”
Ripon next hosts No. 3 seed Capital Christian (14-5) from Sacramento next Tuesday. Defending champion and top-seeded Dixon (21-6) faces No. 5 Casa Roble (11-11) in the other semifinal.
The winners square off for the championship next Saturday, May 27 at Cosumnes River College.