By PETE SIMONCINI
The Oakdale Mustangs varsity girls softball season came to an abrupt and frustrating end in the Sac-Joaquin Section, Division 3 semi-final game against the Central Catholic Raiders in Modesto on Tuesday, May 23. In a most unusual turn of events, the Raiders scored the lone run in the 1-0 game on a walk and a controversially scored play (some called it a hit, others an error) in the bottom of the seventh and final inning. If you go with the error-on-the-final play belief, the Mustangs lost despite the dynamic sister pitching duo of senior Delainey and junior Raegen Everett throwing a combined no hitter. Regardless, tears of frustration were the order of the day among the Mustangs following the game.
The Oakdale-Central Catholic softball rivalry has intensified over the span of the past two years and is rapidly achieving the classification of arch rivalry. Within a span of 14 days, the teams engaged in two battles royal, both of which were classic pitching duels between the Raiders’ Randi Roelling, headed to the University of California, Berkeley, and the Mustangs’ Everett sisters. In the final Valley Oak League regular season game in Oakdale on May 10, Roelling and Raegen Everett pitched seven scoreless innings each until the Raiders touched the Mustang junior for three runs in the first extra inning – enough to record the win. On Tuesday, May 23 Roelling was again in the circle for the entire game, scattering four hits, walking one and striking out 13. Mustang head coach Larry Loger opted to start Mississippi State University-bound Delainey Everett, who had pitched masterfully in the first two playoff games the previous week. The senior did not disappoint, working four innings (58 pitches) and only allowing two baserunners by walks while striking out eight. Raegen, coming on in relief, worked two-and-a-third innings, sailing through the fifth and sixth innings, striking out three in the process, until surrendering the game’s lone run in the seventh. If you enjoy intense pitchers’ duels, the Raiders and Mustangs are the match-up to see.
The Mustangs came close to scoring in the top of the fifth inning. With two outs, sophomore Morgan Merzon singled to left. Fellow sophomore Maddie Bohannon followed with a single to center. Both Merzon and Bohannon are athletes with excellent speed. Loger then inserted senior Katy Thomasson as a pinch hitter. Thomasson came into the game red hot from the plate having hit safely in her previous five at bats over a span of three games and sporting a 0.586 on base percentage; best on the team. Loger then took an educated risk. With an 0-2 count on Thomasson, Merzon broke for third and Bohannon for second. The pitch was out of the strike zone and both runners were safe on the double steal. With runners on second and third, Thomasson was unable to connect on the next pitch and went down swinging ending the Mustang threat.
In the top of the seventh frame, Raegen Everett led off with a bunt single. Loger inserted another speed merchant, junior Taylor Suarez, to run for his pitcher. Jayci Volonte followed by executing an excellent sacrifice bunt sending Suarez to second. With one out, Roelling threw what appeared to be a wild pitch, high and past the catcher. Seeing that development, an alert Suarez broke for third. What happened next is the stuff of softball lore. The ball caromed off the netting of the backstop and flew like a shot directly into the mitt of the Raider catcher, who threw to third in time to cut down Suarez.
“That bounce off the netting was something I’ve never seen before,” said Loger of the frustrating break in favor of the Raiders. “It came back to the catcher faster than (Roelling) threw it.”
Merzon then grounded out to end the inning.
In the bottom of the seventh, Raegen Everett faced the second, third, and cleanup hitters in the Raider line up. The leadoff batter popped up for an out. Then Roelling, who had had a quiet day from the plate up to that point, drew a base on balls. The next hitter, Jazzelyn Rios, hit a line drive to left field. The Central Catholic official scorer ruled it a hit (double), a ruling disputed by Loger: “The last play was an error, not a hit.”
Regardless, the hard running Roelling was able to score, ending the game and the Mustangs’ season amid a wave of frustration.
Oakdale’s varsity girls finished the season with an excellent 20-8 record and a semi-final appearance in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
“It’s always hard to see the season end,” said Loger. “This is a special group of girls. I wish we could have made it to the finals for them.”
Loger should be optimistic about the future, however. Losing only two seniors, and with Raegen Everett returning to the pitching circle next year along with the team’s leading hitter, catcher Presley Barnes, and several other seasoned starters from this year’s team, not to mention members of this year’s undefeated junior varsity team, the Mustangs must be considered a force with which to be reckoned in 2024.