A 5-0 start to league play confirmed what the Atascadero High softball team already knew.
A 6-0 start, and now the entire PAC 7 knows, too.
The Greyhounds finished the first half of the league season in impressive fashion at home Friday, beating defending CIF-Southern Section Division 3 champion Righetti 3-1. The victory snapped the Warriors’ 18-game PAC 7 winning streak and vaulted Atascadero into sole possession of first place.
“The girls have been practicing hard and been wanting to play these guys to see where they are,” coach Darin Traverso said. “We couldn’t really talk smack until we played this game, so now we’re really happy.”
The Greyhounds (18-3-1) had rolled through the rest of the PAC 7, defeating Arroyo Grande, San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles, St. Joseph and Pioneer Valley by a combined score of 46-5.
But those totals could have been 406 and 5 — they wouldn’t have meant much without a positive result against the Warriors, who hadn’t dropped a league contest since a 4-3 loss to Atascadero on May 4, 2012.
“We knew it was going to be our toughest game of the season,” said pitcher Sally Bowles, who kept the potent Righetti offense off the scoreboard until the final inning. “All of us just made sure we were on our game.”
Bowles struck out four and gave up nine hits, but always got the big out when Atascadero needed it most. The sophomore never lost her nerve despite the Warriors getting runners in scoring position in five of seven innings.
“She doesn’t let anything get to her, she just shrugs it off and throws the next pitch,” Traverso said. “She’s an experienced travel ball player, and it shows when she comes out and plays in these games.”
Added Bowles: “I get a little nervous, but I’ve been here so many times that I just know what to expect. I just wanted to keep the ball low and let my defense work behind me.”
The defense did its part when called upon.
Center fielder McKenzi Etchison — who, along with Alex Newsom, provided all the offense necessary — gunned down Righetti leadoff hitter Gladys Esparza trying to go from first to third on a hit by Breanna Timmons in the fifth inning.
Timmons reached second on the throw, but Bowles got Brianna Alvarez to ground out two batters later to end the inning.
Left fielder Nique Mack made an acrobatic catch the following inning, falling to the ground while holding onto a line drive from Sierra Betts for the second out of the sixth.
First baseman Leanne White atoned for an error earlier in the inning by firmly clutching the last out to secure the win.
“A lot of the girls told me they got up this morning and were feeling really good about themselves,” Traverso said. “They just believed in themselves that they were going beat these guys.
“We just let them go out and play.”
Atascadero couldn’t muster much offensively against Righetti’s Stephanie Villalovos, but made the most of its one opportunity.
With two outs and Bowles on first in the bottom of the first inning, cleanup hitter Kaila Herzig fought through a 12-pitch at bat, fouling off seven pitches with a walk to keep the rally alive.
“She does that all the time,” Traverso said. “You just can’t get pitchers by her.
“I call her the tenacious hitter.”
Etchison followed by pulling a 1-2 pitch into left field to score Bowles, and stole second to put two runners in scoring position for Newsom.
The junior outfielder responded by smacking a single into center to put the Greyhounds up 3-0.
“To be honest, I was just trying to hit the ball and move the runners over,” Newsom said. “I wasn’t expecting to get both of them in, maybe one of them.”
Atascadero had only one more baserunner the rest of the game — a single by Keara Blodgett to lead off the fifth.
It was enough with Bowles on the mound.
The right-hander got a ground out to start the seventh before Esparza homered to center, and Teanna Silveira followed with a double to bring the tying run to the plate.
Still unfazed, Bowles struck out Timmons, and Alvarez grounded out to third baseman Sara Wulff two batters later to end the game.
The Greyhounds head into spring break with a six-game winning streak, and have 11 days off before their next game April 22 at Nipomo.
Traverso said it’s ample time to rest up and enjoy the undefeated league start, as well as regroup and focus on making the second half just as bountiful as the first.
“Now, 6-0 sounds good,” he said, “but we’ve got to finish it off by talking care of business and then beating these guys again.”
The rematch with the Warriors (12-6, 4-1) is May 15 at Righetti.
“We’re just kind of one gaming it at a time,” the coach added with a smile. “But it does feel good.”