Things seemed to be quickly unraveling for Golden Valley's Sarah Ruiz on Wednesday afternoon.
The freshman pitcher had cruised through the first five innings -- no-hitting crosstown rival Merced -- as GV took a 4-0 lead.
But the third time through Merced's order proved more difficult.
Ruiz was touched for a run in the sixth and Merced used three singles to load the bases in the seventh with Taylor Gross at the plate.
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"It was intense," Ruiz said. "I was just hoping they didn't get a hit that tied the game.
"I just thought about what my dad always tells me, to stay confident and not get down on myself.
"I do that a lot."
With dad's voice in her head, Ruiz got Gross to chop a slow ground ball to first, completing a tremendous all-around effort in GV's 4-1 victory.
The win was Golden Valley's second straight in the Central California Conference after opening league play 0-2.
"We've been able to hit and we've been able to play defense, but we've had trouble doing them at the same time," Golden Valley coach Chris Tufts said. "The last two games things have started to come together for us.
"When we play like this, we're a tough team to beat."
Merced can attest to that.
Golden Valley applied pressure from the onset.
Gross managed to pitch her way out of a second and third with no outs situation in the first, but wasn't so lucky in the second.
A single and an error an on attempted sacrifice bunt put two aboard for GV (4-9).
Gross battled back -- retiring the next two hitters -- but GV wouldn't come away empty handed again.
Three consecutive seeing-eye singles gave GV a 2-0 lead.
Golden Valley doubled its lead in the fifth on a Krista Copus run-scoring double, followed by a run on Merced's third error of the afternoon.
"Every game I've played against Merced has pretty much been decided by one run where somebody scores late, so it was nice to kind of shut them down," said Copus who was 3 for 4 with two RBI. "We got a lot of confidence from the Pitman game.
"They beat us 9-0 the first we played, so shutting them out was a big boost.
"This is a bigger boost."
Merced's inability to get runners on base has been an all too common occurrence for coach Bart McAfee.
"We just don't hit right now," McAfee said. "It's a recurring theme.
"Until we hit, we aren't going to contend."
Still, Merced gave itself a chance in the end.
"I knew they weren't going down without a fight," Tufts said. "They loaded the bases and had one of their best hitters up there.
"We have all the confidence in the world in Sarah and she made a great pitch."
Sean Lynch is a Sun-Star sports writer. He can be reached at 385-2476 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Central California Conference
GOLDEN VALLEY 4
At Merced College
GOLDEN VALLEY 020 020 0 -- 4 8 1
MERCED 000 001 0 -- 1 5 3
Sarah Ruiz and Morgan Weber. Taylor Gross and Kandice Mathis. WP -- Ruiz. LP -- Gross.
GOLDEN VALLEY -- Megean Bescker 2-4, Krista Corpus 3-4 (2B, 2 RBI), Alyse Beluardo 2-4.
MERCED -- Gross 3B, R.
Records: Golden Valley 2-2 CCC, 10-24; Merced 2-2 CCC, 12-5-1.