The Rancho Cotate Cougars squeaked out a narrow 2-0 victory over the Antioch Panthers last Fri., April 26 in a non-league game held at Rancho Cotate High School.
Non-league games typically grow rare this time of year, especially for a team that has so thoroughly dominated their league. The Cougars are currently standing with a stunning 7-1 record this year and are number one in their division. Yet that first place title was exactly the reason the Panthers traveled all the way from the Sacramento Valley.
They wished to test themselves against strong opponents and the Cougars responded in kind. With the NBL Oak Championship bearing down in just a couple weeks, the Cougars were eager for any chance to hone their skills.
“They’ve been good all year. They’ve been beating pretty good division one teams. We’ve been following them. So we expected some pretty good competition today,” Cougar coach, Tracey Poueu-Guerrero, said. “We had to make some changes to put pressure on the defense. We had some small ball happen—just struggling to manufacture a run.”
And they couldn’t have asked for a more difficult opponent.
For the first three innings, the Panthers kept the Cougars off the scoreboard. It wasn’t until the Cougars’ 2nd basewoman, Tiare Guerrero, tapped the ball about a half dozen feet from home plate and landed on first that Rancho saw their chance. Guerrero stole second a couple pitches later—the ball coming in just a few bare milliseconds after.
It was a close thing, but Guerrero was now in position to take the lead. The Cougars’ priorities shifted to bringing her home. Cougar catcher, Makayla Barnes, went for a sacrificial bunt, but as the ball landed in the glove of Panthers’ first basewoman, Anastasia Martinez, it bounced out and fell to the dirt. Martinez scrambled to pick it up, but the extra time gave Guerrero a chance to round third. She moved towards home, sliding in to put her team on the board.
“Our goal was to come together and win and that’s what we did,” Guerrero said. “We struggled offensively, but we managed to piece something together.”
Despite Guerrero’s run, the Cougars weren’t able to build on the momentum. The Panthers’ defense clamped down on the hole and the inning a few minutes later. The two teams circled each other through the fourth and part of the fifth, each managing to get on base yet never quite capitalizing. The game had slumped into stalemate.
Yet it wasn’t over. The Cougars maintained a fragile and tiny lead, which could vanish at any moment—that is until their centerfielder, Tatum Maytorena, stepped up to the plate.
Maytorena smacked the ball hard over the right field fence to the roar of the crowd. She rounded first, then second, then third, and made for home, stomping onto the plate with a triumphant grin. The final few innings finished quickly after.
“Driving far and losing is never fun,” Panthers’ coach, Nick Wisely, said. “It’s a good team over there. All I care about is that my girls come and compete every day and we competed. They just made more plays than us. That’s all I care about.”
The final game of the Cougars’ season will be against the Petaluma Trojans Fri., May 3 at Magnolia Park.