A much anticipated regular season finale against undefeated East Union lived up to the hype on Wednesday evening, May 6. Oakdale traveled to Manteca to clash with the first place Lady Lancers for a share of the Valley Oak League title. The stage was set, a rematch from last year’s CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Championship game, in which Oakdale won, and a rematch from this year’s season opener in which East Union prevailed on Oakdale’s home field. In a clash of the VOL’s best this time around, East Union edged out Oakdale 7-6 in nine innings. The Lancers took the title, Oakdale finished second in the VOL.
The action and controversy began in the top of the first inning when Oakdale’s Kindra Hackbarth was called out at third base on a double play where Grace Green laid down a sacrifice bunt with one out. Green was thrown out at first, and the East Union first baseman threw across the diamond and made it in time to get Hackbarth out at third. The call came much to the surprise of Lady Mustangs coach Larry Loger, who was less than three feet away from the call, and disputed the umpire’s ruling.
Senior pitcher Melanie Benge took the circle for the Lady Mustangs and the southpaw struck out her first batter, Cherish Burke. It was the first of seven East Union batters she faced. In what was already a bizarre start to the game, East Union’s second batter, Michelle Castro, fouled off the first pitch. Castro swung at an 0-2 pitch and sent the ball into orbit and over the right field wall. However, just before the pitch, a fan threw the previously hit foul ball onto the field and the home run was negated due to interference; the call was made by the first base umpire. Castro reentered the batter’s box and was retired via a ground ball.
Both known for their high powered offense neither the Lady Mustangs nor the Lady Lancers could get past the stellar defense that both teams displayed in the first two innings. In a scoreless game in the top of the third, Green jumped on a quick 0-1 pitch and blasted the ball flying over the center field wall for a two-run home run that brought in Hackbarth. Oakdale added another run in the top of the third when Benge hit a two out RBI double to left field to score Halley Fuller from first to take a 3-0 lead. Benge continued to cruise in the circle as she retired the side in the bottom of the third with three strikeouts. Unlike Benge, Lancers starting pitcher, Delaney Pamplin struggled and was yanked from the circle and was replaced by Mikayla Bongi in the top of the fourth inning. Bongi’s presence was felt immediately as she retired the three batters she faced, all via strikeout.
East Union’s bats came alive in the bottom of the fourth, resulting in the bases loaded with one out. The next ball got away from Benge’s hand resulting in a wild pitch that sent the ball to the backstop and the Lancers runner raced down the third base line and crossed home safely to get East Union on the board. Benge settled down and retired the next batter on strikes.
In the bottom of the sixth, EU’s Samantha Owen hit a solo home run to bring the score to 3-2 Oakdale. With one out in the inning Taylor Ward displayed her power and sent the ball over the fence for a two-run shot to give East Union a 4-3 lead, its first lead of the game.
Oakdale battled back in the top of the seventh when Haley Fuller hit a two out RBI double to bring in Hackbarth to tie the game at 4-4. Emily Greenwood hit a deep shot to left centerfield to bring in Fuller to regain the lead for Oakdale 5-4. In the bottom of the seventh, with two outs and runners on the corners, East Union hit a chopper back to the circle where the ball hit off the glove of Green, who regrouped and threw the ball to first but the throw was not in time and the Lady Lancers tied the game at 5-5.
The drama continued as the Lady Mustangs scored in the top of the eighth on a two out RBI single from Maddi Hackbarth to score Caylie O’Neal to give Oakdale a 6-5 lead. With two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning, a wild pitch from Green resulted in the tying run being at third. A blooper to shallow center field where second baseman Greenwood fielded the ball and attempted to throw out the runner at home was not in time, as East Union tied the game at 6-6. Oakdale failed to score in the top of the ninth, which set the stage for East Union to win in the home half of the inning. With runners on first and third and no outs, the East Union batter hit the ball up the middle; Fuller fielded it and threw it to home plate where Maddi Hackbarth caught it and appeared to get the runner out at home. There, the umpire signaled safe to end the game.
“He (the umpire) said I tagged her out with an empty glove because I had the ball in between my glove and bare hand,” Hackbarth explained about the controversial conclusion.
“Both teams played a great game, only to have it end on a very controversial call. We couldn’t be more proud of the heart and character showed by our team,” said head coach Larry Loger. “The girls are excited and ready for the playoffs.”
The girls opened the playoffs as the fifth seed and took on 12th seed Cordova on Tuesday, May 12 after The Leader went to press.