Iyana Hughes, a prototypical top-of-the-order slapper, puts pressure on defenses with her speed.
But the Sierra High sophomore has proven time and time again that she can hurt opposing teams with a hard swing of the bat.
Hughes’ well-hit single to right helped bring home the winning run for the Timberwolves in the bottom of the seventh inning of their 2-1 win over visiting Central Catholic of Modesto Wednesday.
The victory advances the state’s top-ranked Division-III club to the second round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-IV playoffs, which resumes today at Arnaiz Softball Complex in Stockton. Sierra (23-1-1) awaits the winner of the Los Banos-Vista del Lago game at 7 p.m.
“I just wanted to get on base to give us another chance to score,” Hughes said.
Jessica Lewis led off the inning with a line-drive hit up the middle to finish 2 for 3 for the day. With Michelle Arroyo pinch-running, Shakira Lewis bunted her over to put the winning run in scoring position.
Hughes executed her game plan on the first pitch, driving a shot past Central Catholic second baseman Hannah Henson. Right fielder Katelyn Mitchell bobbled the ball, allowing Arroyo to sprint home uncontested.
“We told (Hughes) we don’t want her to go up there trying to hit a home run,” Sierra coach Nick Olmo said. “They were playing up expecting slap when she hadn’t tried to slap the whole game.
“We just needed her to hit something hard in the gap and that’s what she did.”
Sierra crushed the ball hard all game and struck out just three times against Central pitcher Monica Reno, who scattered seven hits. Reno gave up doubles to Lexus Barnes and Lily Gonzales but didn’t let either score.
She got some big help from standout sophomore center fielder Josie Flores, who caught five popups. The most impressive one was her backhanded, sliding catch in the left-center gap that robbed Hughes of a sure-fire RBI hit in the fifth inning, when Jessica Lewis led off with a single to right.
“I have to give her kudos for that; their center fielder did a great job,” Olmo said. “She probably robbed us of two or three runs. Overall, we hit the ball hard, just right at people.”
“That’s what we’ve lived on all year is great defense,” said Central Catholic coach Greg Applegate. “That’s what’s got us here, and I’d put it up against anybody.”
Sierra broke the ice in the first with an RBI single from Elia Vasquez. The Raiders (16-9-1) answered in the fourth, when Emily Raspo scored on an outfield error after a single to left form Jackie Zalinski.
Olmo knew little of Sierra’s first-round opponent, which defeated Liberty Ranch 11-1 in the out-bracket game Monday, but expected it to give his squad a battle.
“They’re in the playoffs for a reason,” he said. “We knew they were dangerous.”
Central Catholic was able to get runners on base with imposing freshman Allison Walljasper in the pitcher’s circle for Sierra.
Flores led off the game with a walk and was on third base with one out, but Walljasper was able to get out of the jam with the first two of her 11 strikeouts. Central had three leadoff batters reach but took advantage just once.
Walljasper walked three and allowed three hits.
“Ally is tough,” Applegate said. “I want us to face someone like that more often in the preseason, because we don’t face anyone like that in our league. She’s got a great curveball, riseball, changeup, screwball and with movement.
“They’re real pitches, and when you’re not used to seeing it it’s tough to hit. I thought my girls adjusted real well, but she’s the real deal.”