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Wilkins propels Manteca to second round with diving catch, walk-off hit
West Park-Manteca softball
Manteca’s Ayva Wilkins (right) is congratulated by Nayellys Torres (22) and Sienna Lowery (left) after Wilkins belted the walk-off single in the ninth inning. - photo by Wayne Thallander

 It is not very often that an outfielder makes a run-saving catch late in the game and then turns around and posts the walk-off RBI, but that is what happened Tuesday in sixth-seeded Manteca’s nine-inning 2-1 win over visiting No. 11 West Park in the opening round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III softball playoffs.

With the score tied at 1-1 in the top of the second inning, two out and two runners on for the Panthers (15-6) from Roseville, leadoff hitter Mekenzie Humphers blooped a fly ball into shallow center field. Ayva Wilkins flew in and made a diving catch to rob West Park of a run and end the threat.

Nayellys Torres led off the bottom of the ninth for the Buffaloes (16-7) with a single and advanced to second on a walk to Jayana Dias when Torres was replaced on the bases by Chloe Martin. Following a pair of strikeouts, Wilkins came up to bat with two outs and went opposite field deep to right where the ball glanced off of the fielder’s glove, scoring Martin for the thrilling win.

West Park-Manteca softball
Manteca’s Ayva Wilkins laces an opposite-field single in the bottom of the ninth inning for a walk-off RBI.

“I was up to bat thinking not to do too much,” Wilkins said. “Looking for a hard line, but I got the pop fly dropping.”

“On that diving catch, I just kind of saw that ball dropping and I just laid out and thankfully I caught it.”

Wilkins was not the only Manteca player to stand out on both offense and defense. Third baseman Maleiah Garza went 2 for 3 with a ground-rule double, and in the first inning she singled in Lauren Moncada for a 1-0 Buffaloes lead.

In the top of the ninth with a Panthers runner on second and one out, Giada Cornwell hit a screaming grounder down the third-base line. Garza dove to her right, covered the ball and from her knees throw out Cornwell at first, holding the runner at second.

“Up to bat, I was thinking barrel to the ball and keep it simple,” Garza said. “I was working line drive to just get on base.

“I’m a diver, so whenever I see the ball in my range, I just go for it and hope for the best.”

Torres changed her approach in her last at-bat, and she went the distance in the circle, striking out 12 with seven hits and a walk. She was victimized by a three-base error in the third inning that tied the score at 1-1.

“I had got some pretty good shots earlier when I got under the ball,” Torres said. “I tried stay inside and level on my last at-bat and hope for a single and just not try too hard.

“Inside the circle, I was mentally prepared with me and Mo (Moncada), the catcher. I wasn’t worried too much about their hitting, because I knew the defense had my back and they proved it. I just trusted them.”

This was not the first walk-off playoff victory for Manteca.

“That lasted a little longer than we wanted to, obviously,” Buffaloes coach Josh Farris said. “I was telling the girls this is the third year in a row we won on a walk-off in the first round of the playoffs at home — it’s becoming a tradition.

West Park-Manteca softball
Manteca’s Lauren Moncada slides safely into third ahead of the tag by West Park’s Addison Hock in the eighth inning.

Lauren (Moncada) did a good job catching for nine innings. Some people always look in the circle, but the catcher deserves some credit too with nine innings in this heat. She threw out a runner trying to steal in a big spot when the next girl came up and got a hit.

“This game was a bunch of little moments. Maleiah (Garza) diving to stop the ball from going down the line. Ayva (Wilkins) diving in center field to save a run. It may have been nine innings, but it was a bunch of little moments and we had one more than they did.”

 Manteca travels to Woodland on Thursday to face sixth-seeded Pioneer at 4 p.m.