RIPON — Ripon’s epic Trans-Valley League duel with Escalon was nearly halted due to darkness on Friday.
“The plate umpire told us this was going to be the last inning,” Ripon coach Robert Vernon said.
Makenna Daley made sure that was the case.
She swatted at the first offering from Arabella Starch in the bottom of the ninth inning for a walk-off home run and a wild 9-8 win for the still-undefeated Indians (6-0).
It was the TVL opener for both clubs, and the visiting Cougars (4-5-1) already trail in defense of their 2018 championship.
Ripon sophomore pitcher Sydney Thomason outlasted Starch, who totaled 14 strikeouts in the back-and-forth slugfest.
“She just kept us in the game,” Vernon said. “The girls didn’t give up and kept hitting the ball — they’ve been hitting well all year. It was a really exciting game.”
The traditional rivals traded clutch hits throughout.
Sydney Vernon, who has committed to Concordia University Wisconsin — set the tone with a three-run homer in the bottom of the first, swinging for the fences with a 0-2 count.
Ripon didn’t trail in the first six innings, getting an RBI double from Bianca Toledo and a solo homer from Lilly Mejia to carry a 6-4 lead into the seventh. Brooke Campbell roped a two-run single in the second for Escalon, and Hannah Boyd pounded a two-run single in the fifth.
Things got interesting in the seventh.
Escalon’s Lexy Underwood led off with a double and was followed by a game-tying jack from Starch. Thomason retired the next three batters in order.
The Cougars took their first and only lead in the eighth. Malia Babasa drilled an RBI triple to the right-field corner and then scooted home on an error as Ripon botched the relay to the infield.
In the bottom half, No. 9 hitter Myra Toledo worked the count to 2-2 and came through for a two-run single up the middle to keep Ripon alive.
Thomason and the Indians dodged a bullet in the top of the ninth when Escalon tagged three one-out singles in succession to load the bases. Thomason again escaped further damage, setting the stage for Daley.
“This is probably my closest-knight group of kids I’ve had in a while,” coach Vernon said. “They’re loud in the dugout and cheer each other on. They never seem to be out of the game at any point. They can score a lot of runs in a short period of time. It’s a hard-working group of kids that never say die.”