The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
Step one is complete.
On paper, any No. 1 versus 16 seed matchup looks like a mismatch. As such, the College of San Mateo softball team went into the regional round of the California Community College Athletic Association’s 2013 tournament the heavy favorite against Feather River College.
And fortunately for the Bulldogs, they played No. 1-seed softball in a 2-0 sweep of the Golden Eagles. On Saturday, CSM picked up a 12-4 mercy-rule win and on Sunday, the Bulldogs jumped on Feather River early and took the series on a 7-3 decision.
“Playoffs are playoffs,” said an admittedly relieved Nicole Borg, head coach of CSM. “It doesn’t matter who you’re playing. Feather River is a feisty hitting team. You give them an inch and they’ll take a mile and they hit the ball hard quite a few times this weekend. So yeah, there was definitely some nerves, I don’t care what the scoreboard said.”
The scoreboard favored the Bulldogs at every turn during the series. But like Borg said, Feather River could handle the bat very well. The Golden Eagles came into the game with a handful of players hitting over .400 on the year, and as a team hit .386 during the regular season.
“I didn’t feel much momentum from yesterday,” Borg said, speaking of Saturday’s game where CSM put up a four-spot in the first inning behind Talisa Fiame’s three-run bomb. “I hoped for us that we would get better defensively today. Offensively, I think we did better yesterday than today. So, that was a little frustrating. But, we still scored seven runs. I think we played well.”
Just like Saturday, the Bulldogs shot right out of the gate and put early offensive pressure on the Golden Eagles.
Selina Rodriguez led the game off with a signal and came around to score when Jamie Navarro singled up the middle. After Navarro stole second and Michelle Pilster moved her over to third on a fielder’s choice, Fiame delivered an RBI single to make it 2-0. Natalie Saucedo then followed with a knock that plated Pilster and just like, CSM led 3-0. The Bulldogs collected four hits and stole five bases in that opening frame.
“I think we had to have a positive mentality,” Fiame said of the team’s focus heading into Sunday’s Game 2. “We had to keep each other up and just try to stay focused. That was the main thing. And keep a high intensity going.”
CSM tacked on another run in the second when Rodriguez came around to score once again after she had singled with one out down the right field line — a throwing error and an infield single by Pilster brought Rodriguez home.
Feather River drew a run back in the fourth inning but got an immediate response by Bulldogs — once again, it was Fiame flexing her muscle to spark the offense. No. 25 doubled to start the fifth inning and three batters later, she and Mikayla Conlin (who ran for Aracely Osuna after she singled) came around to score following a line drive single to left off the bat of Kristin Petrini to make it 6-1.
Fiame wasn’t done yet. In the sixth, No. 25 got every bit of a thigh-high fastball and sent it on a first-class flight over the left centerfield wall for a magnificent home run — her second of the regional round — to make it 7-1.
“A strike,” Fiame said when asked what she was looking for in that particular at-bat. “Because the previous at-bat I swung at something extremely high so I wanted something waist high. A strike. I think we all knew we needed to score more runs. We had just had to have a better pitch selection and make adjustments at the plate.”
In the meantime, Pilster wasn’t her sharpest, but she was more than effective.
“I think she finished,” Borg said. “I think she had a few at-bats there where she didn’t hit the spots we wanted her to hit.”
“I felt good,” Pilster said. “I just needed to refocus this week and try to keep my ball down. If I keep my ball down, I’m going to be fine.”
Pilster ran into some trouble in the latter innings when she surrendered some hard-hit balls. But while the Golden Eagles added a pair of runs late in the game, the Bulldogs were never in any real danger of losing what was a six-run lead.
“You have to play perfect at this point,” Borg said. “You have to be right on point. Everything we do from here on out has to be perfect. That shouldn’t make us nervous, that’s the way it has to be at this time of the season. We all know we have a target on our back — when you’re ranked No. 1 or 2 everybody wants to beat you so you have to be on point.”