The Paso Robles High softball team wanted to play the role of spoiler against its North County rival.
Atascadero wanted to get a close game from a league opponent in preparation for a much-anticipated rematch with Righetti.
Through three and a half innings Friday in Paso Robles, neither of those seemed likely to happen. The Greyhounds had scored six runs — four unearned thanks to Bearcat errors — and their sophomore pitcher had yet to allow a hit.
That is until Chloe Kerns launched a home run to straightaway center field, sparking the home team to a comeback attempt that ultimately fell one run shy and kept Atascadero undefeated in PAC 7 play with a 6-5 victory.
“They’re our rival; they’re playing good softball, so we needed this,” said Greyhounds coach Darin Traverso, whose team outscored league opponents 63-10 in its first seven contests. “I’m glad we won, and I’m glad it was a tough game. We needed a game like that.”
Alese Dominguez was 4 for 4 with four singles, Kaila Herzig drove in a pair of runs, and leadoff hitter Nique Mack scored three times for Atascadero, which has won nine straight and is in the driver’s seat for a PAC 7 championship.
“That was a big win for us,” Mack said. “We came out wanting to win this game because that just makes it one step closer to that league title we’ve been working for all season long.”
Mack, a senior, was thrust into the leadoff spot with freshman Sara Wulff out with a sprained ankle. A left-handed slap hitter, Mack drew two walks and reached on an error.
“As a leadoff hitter, I really just read the field,” she said. “If they’re back, I’ll lay down a bunt. If not, slap or just do whatever it takes to get on base and do my job.”
Mack scored the first run, part of a four-run first inning, when Sally Bowles’ grounder rolled through both the shortstop and the center fielder.
Mikaya Robasciotti, a courtesy runner for the pitcher Bowles, scored two batters later on a passed ball, and two more unearned runs came home when Paso Robles starting pitcher Dakota Rodriguez threw a ground ball over her first baseman’s head.
“Those errors are things that we never do,” Bearcats coach Val Reynolds said. “But I am proud of the girls because they came back, they stuck it out and they worked hard.”
Herzig’s two RBI — a sacrifice fly in the second and a single in the fourth — put Atascadero ahead 6-0 before Paso Robles finally got a hit off Bowles.
And what a hit it was.
Kerns, a sophomore shortstop, squared up on a 2-1 inside pitch and smoked it directly over center fielder Mckenzi Etchison’s head and the fence to lead off the bottom of the fourth.
“It was more inside and a little down the middle, which is my favorite spot,” Kerns said. “I just turned on it and drove it.”
Now on the scoreboard, the rest of the Bearcats’ offense followed suit. Danielle Lambert singled two batters later and scored when M’Lynn Martin launched a ground-rule double to left field.
Reliever Madison Romero did her part to keep Paso Robles (11-11, 5-4 PAC 7) within striking distance. The junior allowed Herzig’s RBI single in the fourth, but threw three scoreless innings after that on six hits, a walk and three strikeouts.
“She’s been hurt all year, so we’re just bringing her back slowly,” Reynolds said. “Dakota was struggling, and we were making errors behind her. So when we brought (Romero) in and she got the first few out, you could tell our girls started to get more confident, and the momentum started to swing.”
Kerns doubled home Mikayla Stone in the fifth, Nicole Raithel scored on an error in the sixth, and Rodriguez homered to right in the seventh to bring Kerns, representing the tying run, to the plate in the final inning.
“I was little nervous,” Mack said, “but we have a lot of confidence in our pitcher, Sally Bowles, so we knew that she’d get the job done and we’d have her back.”
Kerns sent a 1-1 pitch toward right field, but got just a little too under it, and Cheyenne Hufstetler made the catch for the second out.
“I was like, ‘Wind, come on, just a little bit,’ ” Reynolds said. “It had a chance.”
Bowles, who improved to 13-2 on the season, got Delaney Cline to ground out to second base to end the game.
“It’s frustrating knowing that we could have won, but we came back and battled,” Kerns said. “If we would have given up, then I would have been way more disappointed in our team, but we battled.”
The Greyhounds (21-3-1, 8-0) host Arroyo Grande and visit St. Joseph before a May 13 showdown at Righetti. Atascadero edged the Warriors, last year’s CIF-Southern Section Division 3 champions, 3-1 in the first meeting in April.
Traverso said Wulff, who leads the team with a .561 average and seven doubles, is unlikely to return before the playoffs, but Mack has filled in well at the leadoff spot.
“She gets on base all the time, even if it’s a walk,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be pretty. We all like to see Sara crush one, but it’s just the same, because Nique will get on first and then just steal second.”
The Greyhounds are hitting .400 as a team to go along with 18 home runs, a .943 fielding percentage and a 1.74 staff ERA. Mack said the team accomplishments on the stat sheet and in the win column are because every player is prepared at any moment her number is called.
“Our underclassmen step in when they need to, our seniors lead when they need to and our juniors, too,” she said. “Everybody matters on this team, whether they’re running the bases, hitting the ball, pitching, whatever it is. Everybody can step in at any time.”