LOS BANOS — When Liberty Ranch led off the seventh inning of Monday's Sac-Joaquin Section Divison 4 outbracket playoff game with a pair of singles, it looked like the Los Banos defense might crack.
Instead, the Tigers let one run across while putting out the next three batters to seal a 5-3 victory and set up a meeting Wednesday with Valley Oak League champion Sierra.
"That's what we've been preaching all along throw strikes, make the routine plays, and play catch," Los Banos coach Dustin Caropreso said. "That's what I think we did today. We got down 2-0 (in the first inning) ... I'm sure in the back of the girls' minds they were thinking, 'Oh God, here we go again,' but they battled back."
It was diminutive second baseman Kassandra Gaxiola who tied the game in the bottom of the second with a squeeze bunt that rolled about five feet and died, allowing Brianna Flores to score, moments after courtesy runner Kailyn Neves put LB on the board on a Savannah Peña hit.
"Squeeze play, you've got to do whatever you can, no matter what the pitch, no matter where it's at, where it's placed, to get a bunt down no matter what," Gaxiola said.
"It felt great, I'm glad I made contact and at least pulled through for my team."
While Flores settled down in the circle, Los Banos took the lead in the third on RBI singles by Mayra Espitia and Flores.
"They put a good inning together," Caropreso said. "(When) Gax got the squeeze down to make it 2-2, it was a time to get us back to being where we need to be. After we start that, everything starts falling into place."
LB added an insurance run in the fourth when Melanie Silva scored on a Nicole Marchese fielder's choice, then things stayed static until the seventh inning.
"If you can't make the routine plays and we did. We had a routine pop fly (that was dropped), you know. And then she makes the diving catch (the next inning)," Liberty Ranch coach Shauna DalBianco said. "It's the inconsistency, and it's going to haunt you if you don't take care of it.
"They started with errors and we ended with errors."
Now Los Banos will march into Stockton's Arnaiz Softball Complex, where the rest of the bracket is played, with nothing to lose on Wednesday.
"That's what I told the girls get through this one, and on Wednesday, we've got no pressure on us," Caropreso said. "No one expects us to beat them but us 18 girls and us three coaches. And whoever else shows up from Los Banos. And that's all that matters."