Her face buried into Shelby Cordova’s hair and neck, Oakdale High senior Shelby Reali choked out a revelation amidst tears, smiles and squeezes from a vise-like hug.
“It was all for you,” Reali gasped.
The emotional confession from Oakdale’s softball ace to her injured cleanup hitter played out seconds after Reali had gunned a strike past speedy Sierra leadoff hitter Lyana Hughes for the final out in a 3-1 victory in the championship game of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs at Stockton’s Arnaiz Softball Complex on Saturday.
Cordova, a junior, departed for the hospital just hours earlier when she suffered a serious injury to her knee while covering a bunt during the first championship game that Oakdale lost 4-1. Since the Lady Mustangs beat Sierra in the championship semifinals, the contest only pushed Oakdale into an ‘if’ game shortly after.
Cordova returned on crutches to watch her team win a section championship in the third game in the best two-out-of-three title series.
“It meant a lot to me to be here,” Cordova said. “I was here for the team.
“Next year I am going to do whatever it takes to make sure I finish the entire season on the field.”
Cordova was 1 for 1 with three runs as Oakdale punished Central Catholic 10-0 to start the postseason on May 17. Later that day she hit 2 for 3 with two runs and an RBI as Oakdale advanced to the semifinals with an 11-0 win over Ceres. She scored twice and went 2 for 3 off Sierra pitcher Allie Walljasper during Oakdale’s 9-1 semifinal win.
“(Cordova) is a big part of this team,” Reali said after the championship win. “I wanted to win it for her because I know she wanted it so bad.”
Reali, who pitched sparingly in 2011, became the centerpiece of the Oakdale defense in the preseason and became the biggest cause for Oakdale’s run to a Valley Oak League title and 27-3-1 overall stanza. She outdueled LSU-bound Walljasper during Oakdale’s 4-1 stint against the reigning champion Timberwolves this season.
Oakdale’s terrific defensive play behind her and the quick bats of the entire lineup turned Reali’s stellar performances into victory after victory as the team only got better when it mattered most.
They were 1-0-1 against Central Catholic in the offseason, but scorched the Raiders for five fourth inning runs and added two clever scores in the sixth to force the first-round mercy-ruling. The savvy performance of Oakdale players was best on display in the final moments of the game, when junior Lauren Sanders purposely got into a ‘pickle’ against Central Catholic defenders with one out and Cordova looming at third as the Mustangs’ potential tenth run. When Central Catholic took the bait and made the throw toward Sanders, Cordova trotted home for a walk-off score in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Reali went five innings with nine strikeouts in the win, and was replaced by Anneliese Davis (one strikeout). Ghianna Falconi hit 1 for 2 with two walks while Kaila Olson belted a three-RBI double off the top of the outfield fence. Sarah Peterson was 2 for 4 with two runs while Sanders ended 3 for 3 with six RBIs. Davis (2 for 3, run) and Hanna Holland (2 for 3, run) also showed off hot bats.
“(Central Catholic) had played us tough twice during the regular season, so we weren’t expecting a (10) run rule game against them,” Oakdale coach Larry Loger said. “Our offense set the tone for what was to come in the playoffs.”
The first round win propelled Oakdale to the championship quarterfinals the same day, where Western Athletic Conference champion, Ceres, was waiting after a one-run win over Cosumnes Oaks. The hard-hitting Bulldogs were held to just one hit by Reali (four innings, nine strikeouts), Davis (one inning, two strikeouts) and Melinda Koppinger (one inning, strikeout).
Sanders sent home another three RBIs and ended 1 for 2 while Peterson was 2 for 3 with three runs and an RBI. Olson (1 for 2, run), Falconi (1 for 2, two runs), Davis (1 for 2, RBI) and Koppinger (1 for 1, RBI) also belted base knocks in the win.
On Friday, Oakdale built upon their two-game sweep of Sierra during conference play by knocking around Walljasper for nine hits and four earned runs. Reali went seven full innings with just five hits and one run allowed. She also belted a double while Falconi (2 for 3, two runs), Peterson (2 for 3, run), Sanders (1 for 3, two RBIs), and Holland contributed at the plate.
The Timberwolves pushed things to an ‘if’ game when Sierra’s Hughes, Katelyn Salsedo and Lexus Barnes landed timely knocks and took advantage of two Oakdale errors to beat the Lady Mustangs 4-1 Saturday morning. Peterson was 1 for 2 with a walk and stolen base while Holland ended 1 for 2 with Oakdale’s only run.
“Even though we were on an incredible roll, we knew it would be tough to sweep Sierra for the season,” Loger said. “Shelby Cordova went down with a knee injury and that sort of slowed down our momentum. Allie had her best game of the playoffs, holding us to only two hits and a solo run.”
Oakdale started the finale strong with two big runs from the top of the order. They scored again in the fifth and rallied behind Reali in the final frame to secure the victory. Oakdale belted seven hits off Walljasper, including two from Sanders and one each by Falconi, Olson, Peterson, Holland and Davis. Falconi, Oakdale’s leadoff hitter, singled and scored off Peterson’s single to start the game. Sanders later belted her 11th RBI of the bracket and saw Olson score a run.
“We were disappointed to have lost the first game but not at all willing to lose another,” Loger said. “When Shelby Cordova returned from the hospital in the sixth inning, you could feel the energy level go up.”
Oakdale was ranked No. 10 in Calhisports.com’s D-3 enrollment division as of May 18 and could potentially win a mythical state championship considering eight of the nine teams above them have playoff games to play or have already fallen short of a section title. No. 2 St. Lucy’s of Glendora won a southern section title on May 17, but is ranked just 22nd in California (all divisions) and 75th nationally by maxpreps.com. Oakdale is ranked No. 19 in California and 63rd nationally by maxpreps.
The Mustangs graduate Reali, Falconi, Olson and Stephanie Fauria. Both Falconi and Fauria are undecided on their college intentions while Reali has accepted a scholarship to Notre Dame de Namur and Olson has accepted one from U.C. Davis.
“Senior leadership, enthusiasm, defense, pitching and offense were at an all-time high (this postseason),” Loger said.
“Shelby Reali pitched a great championship game and had one of the best seasons in school history.
“Our coaching staff couldn’t be prouder of this team.”
Reali was named the VOL pitcher of the year while Olson nabbed status as the conference defensive player of the year.
Sanders and Peterson also made the All VOL first team while Falconi and Cordova made the second team. Francesca Orvis, who caught behind the plate for Oakdale all season and made a huge play to keep Oakdale ahead in the SJS finals, was voted to the All VOL defensive team as well.