Errors plagued the Rancho Cotate Cougars in their Wed., May 22nd loss to the Bishop O’Dowd Dragons, 7-4, for the quarterfinal match of the NCS Division 2 playoffs.
The loss means the end of the Cougars’ playoff season. The loss arrived as a bit of a surprise, especially given the rather stellar season the team managed up to this point in the year. The Cougars went 9-1 in league play and entered into the playoffs as the clear favorite and the first seed. The Dragons, meanwhile, were the eighth seed, which made them the underdogs in the matchup.
The turnaround caught the Cougars’ coach, Tracey Poueu-Guerrero, by surprise.
“We made mistakes. I talked to the girls all season about playing great in May and in order to do that we had to make less mistakes than the other team. That didn’t happen today,” Guerrero said.
The Cougars’ problems were manifest right from the first inning. They struggled to get themselves on base, but for a while their defense picked up the slack. It wasn’t until the third inning that the game fell apart.
The Dragons played a careful game. Through a combination of bunts, errors and steals, they loaded all three bases and edged towards home. Then the Dragons’ pitcher, Elizabeth Avery, stepped up to the plate. She fouled off two pitches and then smacked the ball hard. It flew up and over the Cougars’ heads and passed just beyond the edge of the fence for a grand slam. Her team rushed out to welcome her home to the jubilant applause of the away crowd.
“I wasn’t really trying to put it over, but it happens. Put a good spin on it and swing,” Avery said. “I like to go up and focus and see success to make success happen. I think that’s the key to thriving in anything you to do, setting a goal and taking baby-steps to reach it.”
That third inning grand slam was essentially the ball game right then and there. Yet, despite the slip, the Cougars never gave up.
They pressured the Dragons in the fourth inning when Makayla Barnes and Talia Guerrero landed themselves on base. They went home off a powerful hit by Reese Rasmussen, which sent the ball spiraling right into the gap in the midfield. Rasmussen went home herself after a hit by the Cougars’ Faith Cincera earned her the opening she needed.
“In Rancho Softball the whole program teaches you to keep your head up and keep pushing,” Makenzy Millsap said. “We go through a lot in the pre-season to prepare for moments like these, which causes us to never to lose hope and keep fighting no matter what.”
But despite shrinking the gap, the Cougars’ efforts in the latter innings were too little too late. The Dragons managed two more runs in the fifth, which put the game out of the Cougars’ reach.
“We’re fortunate to have had an opportunity to come here and play a team like Rancho Cotate. They’ve had a fantastic season,” Cubs’ coach, Mike Cobb, said. “We knew it was important to get out ahead early (...). We kicked it around a little bit, and we’re not real proud of that, but we kept our chins off our chest and kept fighting. We knew [Rancho] wasn’t going to give up. They came back at us strong.”
It might be some consolations to the Cougars that the Dragons’ victory wasn’t their last. O’Dowd went on to beat Newark Memorial, 6-1, in the semi-finals and then Antioch, 8-2, for the NCS Division 2 Championship title.
But, consolation or not, the Cougars’ loss did mark the end of their season. For many of the Cougars, it was the last game of their high school career. The summer comes and with it the dawn of their adult lives, but their accomplishments won’t be forgotten; the Oak League 2019 Softball Pennant will hang in the Henry Sarlatte Gymnasium for decades to come.