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Clutch pitching prolongs Eagles’ playoff run

Softball
By: Ray Hacke Journal Sports Writer
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SACRAMENTO — In a game where Del Oro High’s pitchers routinely got their team out of tight spots, Jordan Courage got the Golden Eagles out of the toughest jam of all. The freshman reliever struck out three batters with the bases loaded in the seventh inning Tuesday night to preserve Del Oro’s 4-1 victory over Ponderosa in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoff game at the Sacramento Softball Complex. The win put Del Oro (23-7) in today’s final against defending section champion Oak Ridge , which is gunning for its third straight Division II crown. The Trojans (23-4-1 ) defeated the Golden Eagles 2-0 in the semifinals of the double-elimination tournament Monday night, meaning Del Oro will have to win twice today to claim the section title. “I’d rather they had to beat us twice,” Del Oro coach John Peck said, chuckling, “but it’s good to be in the game with them.” Courage, who played left field for most of the game, took over the Golden Eagles’ pitching duties after junior Savannah Pingree fouled a ball off her left foot in the bottom of the sixth. Peck was hopeful, but unsure, that Pingree (21-5) would return for today’s game. Ponderosa (16-11) loaded the bases in the top of the seventh when its first two runners reached on an error and the next two batters walked. After some encouraging words from her teammates in a mound conference, Courage was able to focus, and she fanned the next three hitters to earn the save. “Holy smokes,” Courage said of her reaction after getting the final out. “I was so happy. My team deserved it because they worked so hard.” Courage’s effort was merely the most climactic on a night when Del Oro’s hurlers repeatedly escaped from one jam after another. Ponderosa loaded the bases in both the fourth and sixth innings and had a runner in scoring position in the fifth. Each time, Pingree — who finished with eight strikeouts, seven walks and six hits allowed — and the Golden Eagles made sure the Bruins ended the inning with a goose egg on the scoreboard. Offensively, junior designated player Annette Merjano and sophomore catcher Aspen Echelmeier each swatted solo home runs over the fence in left field. Merjano’s homer in the bottom of the fourth put the Golden Eagles ahead to stay. Freshman third baseman Hannah George went 3-for-4 with a double and a run scored for Del Oro. Freshman shortstop Whitney Smith drove in Courage with a sacrifice fly in the fifth. Echelmeier said the Golden Eagles are itching for some payback against Oak Ridge tonight after Monday’s tough loss. “We want to come back and redeem ourselves and beat them,” she said.