A good deal of the Golden Valley softball team's playoff hopes rest on the arm of Gabi Espinosa.
It may seem like a lot of pressure on a freshman, but as the Central California Conference race has intensified, Espinosa has flourished.
Since holding two-time defending champion Buhach Colony to three runs at the end of of March, Espinosa and Golden Valley have run off three straight victories over other contenders for the CCC's second seed.
The GV ace helped extend that run to four on Thursday afternoon with a 5-1 victory over Pitman at Joe Herb Park.
"This was a playoff game," GV coach Sam Croninger said. "The game before spring break is always a brutal mental challenge.
"We made some mistakes, but for the most part we were able to overcome it.
"We won this one because (Espinosa) kept the ball at their knees and kept them off balance all game."
Espinosa helped avenge an earlier loss to Pitman by allowing one run on six hits while striking out four.
The victory improved GV (5-10) to 4-3 in the CCC and leaves them tied with Los Banos for second place.
"In my mind we had to win this game," Espinosa said. "The defense really pulled together and it gave me a lot of confidence."
Espinosa's infield gobbled everything up that Pitman sent their way and catcher Morgan Weber was picking people off the basepaths at her leisure.
Still, GV's finest moment came in the second inning.
With a runner on second and two outs, Pitman's Rachel Clapper laced a single to left.
GV left fielder Tori Johnson charged the ball hard and came up firing to third baseman Amanda Rabith.
Rabith turned and unloaded a strike just over the shoulder of Pitman's Miranda Taylor.
Weber blocked off the plate and Taylor was out easily, keeping the game scoreless.
It remained that way until Golden Valley finally broke through in the bottom of the fifth.
A leadoff walk to Johnson and an error on a Ali Hague ground ball brought Krista Copus to the plate with two on and no one out.
Pitman pitcher Bethany Clapper got Copus to cue a slow roller off to the left side, but an attempt to get Johnson at third was thrown away and the GV freshman came home for the first run.
The floodgates opened from there.
Hague scored on a wild pitch and Copus followed on a bunt single by Sarah English.
Gina Bandoni delivered the knockout blow, tripling in two with a line drive past the left fielder.
"Second place in the CCC is there for the taking and if we want to grab it, this was a game we had to have," Croninger said. "Now we get a week off to rest and hopefully come back focused."