By Ray Hamill — Two of the three North Coast Section softball playoff games involving local teams on Friday ended on a walk-off, including an entertaining matchup between the Huskies and Hoopa at Fortuna.
Meeting for the third time this season, the Fortuna girls won for the third time against the Warriors, with senior Libby Johnston driving in the winning run on a two-out single in the bottom of the seventh inning for a 2-1 victory.
Also in action on Friday, the St. Bernard’s girls fell 5-4 at Head-Royce in Oakland, with the Jayhawks breaking a late 4-4 tie with a walk-off run in the bottom of the seventh to advance to the Division-5 semifinals.
The No. 6 Loggers opened up a 7-2 lead before the higher seeds battled back to make for an interesting finish.
But the Eureka girls held on and then got more good news after the win.
No. 10 Encinal knocked off No. 2 Maria Carrillo 8-7 in the same bracket, meaning the Loggers will now get to host their semifinal against the Jets on Wednesday instead of having to travel to Maria Carrillo.
The Loggers will be playing for a second straight NCS championship game appearance as they keep their hopes of a first-ever section championship alive.
At Fortuna, the Huskies rallied from an early one-run deficit in their Division-4 matchup, tying the game in the bottom of the fifth to set up the dramatic conclusion.
Both Fortuna runs came with two outs and both were driven home by Johnston.
Freshman Isabel Sanchez singled to reach base with two outs in the fifth and was then advanced on a Kadence Mace walk before reaching home plate moments later on a Johnston single.
Johnston came up clutch once again with another big RBI single in the bottom of the seventh to score pinch runner Olivia Hayes for the winning run.
Mariah Bravo had walked to reach base before Hayes came in, but the Huskies got lucky when a routine pop-up was dropped to advance Hayes to third and keep the inning alive.
Both pitchers — Hoopa’s Tatianna Colegrove and Fortuna’s Kylee Fennell — did a good job of limiting opportunities for the opposing offenses and they each got plenty of help from some solid defensive play by both teams.
In particular, Hoopa left fielder Maizey Maloney, who made impressive catches in both the fourth and fifth innings, each of which prevented additional runs from scoring.
The Fortuna infielders and outfielders also made big plays to support their pitcher.
“I’m very proud of our girls and how we played defense,” head coach Eric Helms said. “When we made mistakes, our girls stepped up and made the next play. We didn’t compound the problem.”
Seniors Johnston and Fennell were particularly clutch, not wanting their high school careers to end just yet.
“Our seniors really stepped up,” said Helms, who added, “(Johnston) was hitting her spots and we backed her up with defense behind her.”
The Hoopa girls scored their run in the top of the second, with Nalani Colegrove driving in Jewely Bibancos.
Bibancos and Bella Valentine each had a double in the loss, while Diamond Bibancos and Rianna Bain both finished 1-for-3.
In the circle, Tatianna Colegrove had eight strikeouts.
The loss was the first in the NCS postseason for Hoopa since 2018 and ends a run of seven straight NCS wins that had resulted in back-to-back section crowns in 2019 and 2022.
(There were no playoffs in 2020 or 2021 because of the pandemic.)
Because of that success and the NCS competitive equity rules, the Warriors were moved up to Division 4 this spring and forced to compete with far larger schools in the bracket.
“I give Hoopa credit,” Helms said. “They played a great game. Their left fielder made some great plays. It was a good game between two good opponents.”
All five of Hoopa’s losses this season came against Big 5 teams, including three straight by just a single run.
The Fortuna girls will play their semifinal at No. 1 seed Cardinal Newman on Tuesday after the Cardinals beat No. 9 Swett 24-0 in their quarterfinal.
In Oakland, the No. 5 SB girls overcame an early one-run deficit against No. 4 Head-Royce with three runs in the top of the second inning.
The home team, however, would chip away at the lead with a single run in four of the first five innings.
The Jayhawks came from behind to tie the game twice — in the fourth and fifth innings — before securing the victory on a walk-off in the seventh.