The Kimball High softball team is going into the 2020 season with the determination to become a top contender in the Valley Oak League.
The Jaguars, with a new coach in Justin Bigler and a core of experienced returning players, sent a message Wednesday that they’re ready to launch into their best season yet, taking a 6-4 come-from-behind win against Tracy High at the Tracy Sports Complex.
Going into the seventh inning, the Bulldogs appeared ready to wrap up the game with a 4-3 win. Tracy’s sophomore relief pitcher Kaela Jones had allowed the Jaguars only one hit in 2 2/3 innings and had just retired eight consecutive batters — six in the previous two innings and two in the top of the seventh.
But as far as the Kimball batters were concerned, the game was far from over. Sophomore Mackenzie Sorenson, Kimball’s leadoff batter, bunted for a single and then outran the play at second base when Kimball junior Arianna Retuta reached on a fielder’s choice.
Kimball senior Rylie Costa came up and drove the ball to left-center field for a single, and Sorenson sprinted around the bases to score. Now that it was a 4-4 tie, the game was Kimball’s to win. Retuta and Costa both advanced on steals, and junior Leah Richardson hit a shot to right field bring in both runners and put Kimball up 6-4.
Costa, a fourth-year varsity player for the Jaguars, said that in spite of the pressure of the situation, she and her teammates kept their focus on playing their best game one hit at a time.
“I knew that Leah was behind me, so I was like, just get a base hit, base hit, because a base hit to the outfield would score one for sure,” Costa said. “I haven’t had a solid hit yet this season, so it was nice to get a good piece of that.”
Richardson said she carried the confidence of her team with her when she went to the plate.
“Going into that at-bat, I was a little nervous, but I knew that my team had my back,” she said. “If I believed in myself and my coach, Justin, and my teammates believed in me, I knew I could do it.
“Winning this is so big, because the last time we beat Tracy High was 2012, when my sister was at Kimball,” she added, referring to Anisha Richardson, class of 2013. “So this is just really big for us, for the program. Riley really stepped up, and with Justin coming in, the culture is changing. I think it’s going to be a really good season.”
Wednesday’s game was the 10th time the Jaguars and Bulldogs have played each other in an early-season nonleague matchup since Kimball High first fielded a varsity softball team in 2011. Kimball won the first two years, but Tracy has beaten Kimball every year since 2013. The Bulldogs ended the game on the 10-run mercy rule in four of the past seven games.
Costa pitched the full game for Kimball on Wednesday, including a seventh inning when Tracy runners advanced as far as second base before Costa threw a strikeout to end the game.
Bigler said he came to the Jaguars this year with the idea that the Kimball softball team was ready for a new start.
“Since I got hired and we started in the weight room, it was early December, we’ve just been working on believing in yourself, trusting your teammate and good things will happen,” he said. “They’ve worked hard since December in the weight room and it’s starting to show.”
The Jaguars totaled eight hits for the day, including three hits for Richardson and doubles for Retuta and junior Adriana Martinez. Meanwhile, Tracy totaled nine hits.
“I know we left too many runners on base and that’s what killed us,” Tracy coach Paulette Keeney said. “We needed that one key hit and this would have been a different ballgame. I don’t want to take the win away from Kimball. They worked hard and they didn’t give up the whole game.”
Tracy left runners in scoring position in six of the seven innings, including the sixth. Tracy loaded the bases with one out, but Kimball senior shortstop Savannah Rogers made a play to junior catcher Araceli Navarette at the plate for the second out and Kimball centerfielder Retuta caught a fly ball to end the inning.
Tracy’s hits included junior catcher Aaliyah Jenkins’ bases-loaded ground-rule double down the left field line in the Bulldogs’ three-run third inning. Her hit scored the first runs of the game, and Jenkins said that driving in those first runs is one of the best roles a player can have.
“I really feel like if there’s that one person on the team who is fired up and kind of flows throughout the team and gets everyone going, I love being that person that helps our team win,” she said. “Our team is young. A lot of us are talented and a lot of us have played together before, so it’s really good chemistry and I’m really excited for our team this year.”
Tracy 10, Cosumnes Oaks 1
The Bulldogs opened with a three-run first inning against Cosumnes Oaks on Tuesday at the Tracy Sports Complex and added runs in the late innings for a 10-1 win.
Tracy had seven players drive in runs on Tuesday, including senior Giavana Alegre, who hit a solo home run, and junior Jayden Estabrook, who had a triple and drove in two runs.
Sophomore starting pitcher Kaela Jones got the win, giving up two hits over three innings, and sophomore Hannah Schaller gave up two hits and a run over four innings of relief.
Mountain House 27, Delta Charter 7
The Mustangs pounded out 28 base hits at Delta Charter High on Tuesday. Mountain House held an 11-2 lead after the first inning and continued to dominate through four more innings. Freshman Kaiya Simmons and seniors Venessa Nguyen and Lyric Moore each had five hits for the Mustangs, with Moore hitting a home run, a triple and a double. Junior Aubrie Medeiros and sophomore Kailie Boswell-Snodgrass had four hits each.
Tracy 5, Oakdale 1
The Bulldogs opened their season with a 5-1 win over Oakdale on Friday at the Tracy Sports Complex.
Oakdale scored first, but it was the only run that junior starting pitcher Kaela Jones would allow over five innings. Jones gave up four hits, and sophomore Hannah Schaller gave up two hits and no runs over two innings.
The Bulldog batters totaled eight hits, with junior Aaliyah Jenkins going 3 for 3. Senior Giavana Alegre had two hits and drove in a run, and junior Ashley Sansoni had a hit and two RBIs.