As the host of the annual Arroyo Grande Softball by the Beach tournament, the host team’s players look forward to the local competition every year.
It makes it that much more exciting when they’re in the mix for a championship in the 16-team event, which includes schools from throughout Southern California, including Ventura and Huntington Beach.
The Eagles are two games away from the title after winning 5-1 against Templeton High on Thursday after beating Buena of Ventura in a 5-4 battle earlier in the day.
Templeton (4-8) won 5-1 versus Clovis East to get into the winner’s bracket against Arroyo Grande (6-7).
Arroyo Grande moves on to play St. Joseph — a team it beat 13-4 earlier this season — at 11 this morning. If Arroyo Grande beats Knights, they’ll play for the tournament title at 3 p.m. at Soto Sports Complex.
“This is fun,” Arroyo Grande sophomore catcher Sierra Fuentez Sloan said. “This is our tournament, and to get the first two is pretty exciting because it means we have a chance at the championship. I believe in our team. I believe we can do it. We’re really starting to gel.”
Fueled by crafty pitching from starter Rebekah Hernandez, and backed up by relievers Bailey Killough and Dominique Hernandez, Arroyo Grande kept Templeton from stringing together rallies.
Hernandez gave up a run to put Templeton ahead 1-0 in the first inning after walking Ashley Stevens, who stole second, and scored on single to left by first baseman Corrine Barto.
But exclusively using her curve and drop pitch, Hernandez struck out five of the next six Templeton hitters and locked down Templeton in the next few innings. Killough came on in the bottom of the fourth to record a strikeout with the bases loaded and keep the tournament host out front.
“I didn’t throw any fastballs today,” Hernandez said. “I went all with my curve and drop. After giving up that run in the first inning, I just told myself to shake it off. You have to just keep on going.”
Templeton pitcher Brynn Smith threw a scoreless first three innings, getting five of her first six outs on pop-ups and using her change-ups and high pitches to induce fly balls.
But then Arroyo Grande exploded in a dramatic fourth by scoring five runs, kicked off by a bases-loaded double from first baseman Jessie Robinson.
Robinson’s ground ball screamer to the gap in right scored Fuentez Sloan, who slapped a ground-ball single through the infield earlier in the inning.
Arroyo Grande poured it on with a sacrifice bunt from Charlotte Yracheta that drove home a run, and a double down the line to right by Dominique Hernandez, who closed out the game on the mound.
In a controversial play in the fourth, Templeton catcher Ashanti Alba was officially “restricted to the bench” after the umpire ruled she kicked an Arroyo Grande runner on a throw to the plate. Alba didn’t appear to make any intentional contact as she recorded the out and stood to check a runner on base.
But arguments from Templeton coach Vanessa Duhon went on deaf ears. The umpires ruled on the restriction based on sportsmanship, which is different from an ejection because it allows Alba to play in her next game.
“We had some tough calls in this one,” Duhon said. “We did well the first three innings, but then they got some calls and they hit the ball well. They’re a good team.”
Arroyo Grande coach John Welch called the victory “a great team effort” and said the players came together as a team the best they have all season.
In the first game against Buena, Welch said his three pitchers — Hernandez, Killough and Henderson — all contributed to the win, and Henderson had a key RBI triple in the fifth.
In Templeton’s first game, Barto pitched a complete game while striking out four. She was also 2 for 2 at the plate with two RBI.
Stevens had a triple and an RBI in the win against East Clovis.
Templeton plays Alemany at 9 a.m. today.