STOCKTON — There's not a player Escalon High coach Dianne Teixeira would rather see at the plate in a clutch situation than Lou Jackson.
"She's always calm and she takes a nice level swing, usually making contact," Teixeira said. "I always feel confident when Lou is up there."
Escalon's senior third baseman delivered in the bottom of the seventh, driving in the game-winning run as the Cougars beat rival Hughson 2-1 to advance to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 5 championship game.
"We spend a lot of time on those situations, focusing on on putting the ball in play," Teixeira said. "Lou stayed back on an inside pitch, then she turned and just drove it between short and third."
Escalon (25-3) shoots for its second straight section title, and a mythical state championship, when it faces Hughson (23-7) for the fifth time today at noon at Arnaiz Stadium.
Hughson gets a second shot at its nemesis after beating Hilmar 11-1 late Friday in the losers' bracket final. Escalon is 3-1 vs. Hughson.
"Any time we play Hughson you know it's going to be a tight game," Teixeira said. "They've got a fine pitcher in (Alyssa) Coelho, but we've got the experience from having played for the title last year."
If Escalon loses that noon game, a winner-take-all showdown follows.
The Cougars earned that by going 3-0 through the tournament's preliminary rounds. Hughson was unbeaten going into Friday.
Escalon, No. 1 in the CalHiSports state small-school poll, needed that second game last year: Patterson beat it 1-0 in the opener, then the Cougars prevailed 6-1 to win their first-ever section softball crown.
Escalon's game-winning rally began in unexpected fashion, as No. 9 hitter Tori Jones worked the count for a walk. Pinch-runner Amy Hood stole second, went to third on a passed ball and eventually scored on Jackson's two-out single into left field.
"Amy's fast and we felt we had to go for the steal because we wanted her in scoring position for the top of our order," said Teixeira, whose club has outscored its foes 6-1 in three playoff wins. "The way Caitlin has been pitching, I like our chances of winning this."
Brooks struck out nine, allowed two singles and gave up an unearned run in the third that tied the game at 1. Hughson's run was the result of a walk and an error.
In the losers' bracket game earlier in the evening, Alissa Orosco drove in three runs and Hilmar rallied to beat Western Athletic Conference rival Patterson 5-2.
The victory avenged Hilmar's two losses to Patterson last week, a sweep that gave Patterson the WAC title.
Orosco's sixth-inning double scored Stesha Brazil, then Orosco scored on Alma Gallegos' groundout to tie it at 2. Orosco delivered the key hit, a two-run single, in the top of the seventh for the 5-2 lead.
"We kept putting the ball in play, and that's always the key," Hilmar coach Paul Willis. "A key play was Stesha's double in the sixth. The outfield was so deep that she dropped it in front of them."
Oakdale beat East Union 7-3 in a losers' bracket between Valley Oak League rivals, but its season ended late Friday night in a 3-1 loss to Center. Oakdale and EU split their league games, with Oakdale claiming the league title. Three-time defending sedction champ Bear River plays Center today for the crown.