The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
There’s nothing quite like a gem of a pitching duel on opening day.
The College of San Mateo softball team didn’t enjoy most of its day at the plate in Wednesday’s Coast Conference North opener against Ohlone College at Bulldogs Stadium. But the Lady Bulldogs finished with a flourish to claim a 2-1 win at Bulldog Stadium.
With both Ohlone starting pitcher Nalani Scates and CSM starter Madison Mercer absolutely dealing, the Bulldogs scored two runs in their final at-bat to overtake the Renegades on the scoreboard. Ohlone had broken a scoreless tie in the top of the sixth inning on a two-out RBI double off the bat of cleanup hitter Kassie Kochan.
When the Bulldogs (1-0 in Coast North, 7-1 overall) came to the plate in the bottom of the sixth, however, sophomore second baseman Samantha Dean doubled down.
“(She) came through,” CSM head coach Nicole Borg said. “She had two really bad at-bats earlier. So it was nice to see her overcome that and come through when we really needed her to come through.”
With two on, two outs and facing a two-strike count, Dean hammered a double off the right-center field wall to plate Meagan Wells from third and Lauren Quirke all the way from first to put CSM in front. Mercer then retired the side in order in the top of the seventh to record her second complete game of the season.
Quirke said she wasn’t sure if she would score on the two-base knock until she saw Borg waving her home from the third-base coach’s box. Wells, however, said she knew it was a Bulldogs lead from the moment the ball exploded off Dean’s bat.
“I knew it,” Wells aid. “As soon as it left the bat it was like, there’s no way we’re not going to get this done right now. That’s Bulldogs softball, right? There’s always going to be a way that we’re going to pull through.”
That scenario didn’t seem likely with the way Scates was throwing for Ohlone (0-1, 4-2-1). Ranking third in the state in strikeouts, the right-hander had a devastating one-two punch working with a crisp heater and a lights-out changeup.
“I think this is some of the best pitching we’ve seen all season,” Ohlone head coach Julie Marshall said. “We come here always expecting a battle and hopefully we’ve gave them one of the best games they’ve had all season.”
On the CSM side though, Mercer was up for duel. The 6-foot-2 freshman right-hander allowed just four hits on the day while boosting her reputation as one who will dominate the inside half of the plate. Mercer allowed just one run, and an unearned one at that. Although, Ohlone’s run-scoring rally in the sixth was set up by the hurler’s own throwing error.
Ohlone leadoff hitter Meida Taulalatasi laid down a bunt that forced Mercer to charge from the circle. As Taulalatasi motored down the line, Dean sprinted over to cover first base, but Mercer’s throw went sailing well over her head to put Taulalatasi at first with no outs.
“[Dean] was there, it was just a crappy throw from me,” Mercer said.
Taulalatasi moved around to third base on a pair of groundouts. Then Kochan threw a grenade into right field that just stayed inside the foul line to give Ohlone a 1-0 lead. The silver lining was Kochan got thrown out trying to stretch the double into a triple, putting CSM back in the dugout immediately.
After a quick team confab in front of the dugout, the Bulldgos went to work on a two-out rally. Wells, hitting out of the cleanup spot, had bunted for a single in her previous at-bat. In the sixth, she laced a two-out grounder into the hole at shortstop and motored for another infield single. Then the left-handed Quirke delivered a single to right-center to put runners at the corners.
Dean had struck out in her previous two at-bats and got into a two-strike hole again. After fouling off a high fastball that just cleared the wall beyond the reach of Ohlone first baseman Sam Adami, Dean pounced on the next pitch, a location-mistake fastball, and drilled it for a one-hopper off the wall in right-center.
“That last pitch wasn’t a pitch we would have thrown again,” Marshall said. “If we throw that pitch it’s in a much better place and [Dean] probably doesn’t get that good of a result. But hey, we learn from our mistakes and we move on.”
Mercer seized on the momentum in the top of the seventh and retired the side in order on seven pitches, with Savina Gonzales popping out to Wells at shortstop to finish it. Mercer’s record improves to 3-1.
“I was pumped because [Dean] got that really big hit,” Mercer said. “I was trying to finish for them and wanted to do my part.”
Through seven consecutive previous wins, CSM outscored opponents 66-20, including a 20-16 win over Sierra College. Wednesday marks the Bulldogs’ first one-run win of the year.
“I think it teaches us that the real softball games are one-run games with good pitching,” Borg said. “[Scates] is a good pitcher. Scates did a really good job today. I think it opened our eyes to a lot of things we have to do right and we learned we have to execute better.”
With the win, CSM jumps up top of the Coast Conference North standings. Foothill, Chabot and De Anza have yet to open conference play in the five-team conference.