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Willenbrink hits game-winning single in 11th in Buffs’ postseason opener
Lincoln-Manteca softball
Baylee Willenbrink is surrounded by Manteca teammates after belting the game-winning hit in the bottom of the 11th inning Tuesday against Lincoln. - photo by SEAN KAHLER

Softball can be a game of inches, and sometimes even less than that.

With Manteca’s Grace Rosas on third in the bottom of the 11th inning, two outs and the score tied, Baylee Willenbrink laced a two-strike fly ball down the left-field line.

Lincoln left fielder Lauren Holcomb almost ran it down, but the ball hit the edge of her mitt and fell to the ground, scoring Rosas and giving the sixth-seeded Buffaloes a 2-1 walk-off win Tuesday in opening-round action of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs.

“Right when it was pitched, I knew it was gone,” Willenbrink said. “It was coming inside and I thought I could get around on it.

“I ran to first base, I did not watch it, but I slipped in the batter’s box.”

Willenbrink (2 for 4, RBI, run) singled to lead off the Manteca fourth, took third on Jessica Almeida’s single and came home on a groundout by Nayellys Torres to tie the game at 1-1. Willenbrink ended the fighting Zebras’ fifth when with one out at shortstop she fielded a sharp line drive, doubling up the Lincoln runner at second.

Torres went the distance in the circle for the Buffaloes (20-7-1), sprinkling 11 hits over the 11 innings, striking out 14 and walking three.

But no strikeouts were bigger for Torres than two in the 10th inning. With no outs and runners on second and third, Torres reached down and fanned the next two batters. She then gave up an intentional walk to load the bases before inducing a flyout to end the threat.    

“With those runners on second and third I had to pitch strikes,” Torres said. “But I knew if they put the ball in play that the defense would have my back.

“In that last inning my arm and my back started killing me but I knew I couldn’t let the team down. I pushed through it.”

The 11th-seeded Fighting Zebras from Lincoln (12-13) took a 1-0 lead in the second inning on a two-out home run by Alessanda Ramirez (3 for 4, home run, RBI).

This may have been an historic day for Manteca. According to Buffaloes coach Josh Farris, this appears to be the first playoff game hosted or won by Manteca and sets a record for season wins.   

“We tried to go back and look and even asked some old Buffaloes,” Farris said. “MaxPreps only goes back to 2004, and there is nothing in the MaxPreps era about a playoff win, hosting a playoff game or a 20-win season. We are going to dig a little more in the archives to check this stuff out. A goal of ours coming into the season was a playoff win and we accomplished it.

“Every inning from the sixth on we wondered what was going to happen next. I told Nelly (Torres) that in my time being here of six years that was the best performance by a Buffaloes softball player. Even one time when she didn’t get it done in her at-bat she didn’t take that with her to the mound. She just kept competing and she was so good today. Obviously, we are really proud of her.”

Manteca takes to the road Thursday to face Valley Oak League foe No. 3 Oakdale at 4 p.m. The Mustangs hammered No. 10 Beyer 10-0 on Tuesday.