Good things come to those who wait.
That was the motto for the Live Oak High softball team (15-11), whose CIF NorCal Regional Division V playoff championship game against North Salinas (15-13) June 3 was delayed an hour on account of an umpire scheduling mishap.
When the contest did get going, the top seed Acorns did not miss a beat, pummeling the Vikings in a 13-3, five inning, mercy-rule victory to earn the school’s first CIF Regional Championship.
“I just couldn’t be more proud of the girls in finding their groove here in the postseason,” coach Sarah Porras said. “They’ve been run-ruling teams all postseason, and it’s only fitting that they win a NorCal championship in the same way.”
As Porras alludes, Live Oak has been inexorable throughout the Central Coast Section and NorCal playoffs. In their five playoff games, the Acorns outscored opponents, 59-4. Such dominance was unforeseen even from the players themselves, who ended the regular season with a 5-9 record in the Blossom Valley Athletic League’s Mount Hamilton Division.
“At first, we didn’t even know we were gonna make it into [the] CCS playoffs,” senior second baseman Jordan Lara said. “And then we did. And then we won the whole thing. And then we won NorCal. So just totally going up!”
Live Oak, which had an opening round/quarterfinal bye, required just one win to make it to the title game. The Acorns scored a 10-0, mercy-rule victory in the semifinals vs. Los Molinos, a side coming off a 20-6 triumph in the quarterfinals.
However, Los Molinos was no match for Live Oak.
“I think just the camaraderie of the team is really what has brought them this far; they really are just gelled together and a strong unit,” Porras said.
In the wake of another Acorns’ scoring spree against North Salinas, Lara’s third-inning home run stood out. The senior connected on the first pitch in the count, sending a rocket over the center field fence for a two-run homer to extend the lead to five runs.
“I told myself, ‘Jesus brought me all the way here to hit one over the fence,’” Lara said. “So, I go up to bat and I say, ‘Come on, let me hit one, let me hit one,’ and then boom, over the fence and that was it.”
Freshman pitcher Hailey Nguyen continued her hot streak in the circle, striking out 10 batters in a shortened yet complete game. While she did yield seven walks, her clutch strikeouts ended innings before the Vikings could do too much damage.
“I definitely struggled a little bit in some parts, but I just knew that my defense would pick me up,” Nguyen said.
Senior shortstop Dre DeJesus was potent as always, going 3-for-4 with three doubles and three RBIs that included a two-run dinger to open up the scoring and the game-sealing run off another double. Senior first baseman Bela Panuco joined DeJesus with three RBIs earned off singles in the first and fourth innings.
Freshman left fielder Olivia Mixco — the only repeat batter to finish perfect at the plate with a 4-for-4 record — was right behind her senior teammates, hitting a double in the final inning to send two Acorns home.
“We talk all the time to the girls about having a plan, and when you’re ahead in the count, sticking to that plan,” Porras said.
Rounding out the scoresheet, junior catcher Mara DiFrancesco and Nguyen collected an RBI each off singles, while junior third baseman Hailey Stegall hit a flyball into deep center field to send a third-base-bound Mixco to home plate.
All of these runs ensured the program’s first CIF NorCal Regional title, and with it, a new standard to be strived for going forward.
“When I played, CCS was all you could go after,” Porras said. “Now, this is just a new step to aim for. This isn’t honestly anything that I ever thought about or dreamed about. But this is amazing, and we definitely have a new goal every year.”
The burden of meeting this new objective will be out of the hands of the eight senior Acorns departing for college in the fall. However, with returning talent like Nguyen and Mixco, the team’s future remains bright.
“I’m looking forward to still having a strong core of athletes left,” Porras said. “We have a lot of seniors and we’ll definitely miss them, but I am excited to see some other girls step up into more leadership roles and then be able to hopefully have the same experience.”