Before she stepped to the plate, Ceres High School’s Rayohna Sagapolu told her teammates she was going to hit the ball on the ground.
Her prediction came true.
The soon-to-be junior hit a grounder off Atwater ace Cheyenne Mahy up the middle for a walk-off, two-run single to give the Western Athletic Conference all-stars a 7-6 win in the ninth inning of the inaugural Paul Leonardo WAC vs. CCC All-Star Game on Wednesday night at Livingston High.
“I was overwhelmed. I just started running,” Sagapolu said after the winning hit. “I started running to second, and then I saw everyone running out of the dugout. I just stopped.”
The game, which was put together by Livingston coach Joe Leonardo in memory of his brother, who was a longtime coach, was a success. A large crowd showed up, filling the bleachers and spilling down both foul lines, to watch the top players from both leagues square off.
Golden Valley’s Shyan Crutcher won the pregame home run derby, launching four.
“I wasn’t expecting to hit any because I haven’t hit in a while,” Crutcher said. “I was just having fun. I thought it was going to be hard because we were hitting off of a pitching machine and the wind was blowing in.”
The players posed for pictures after the game with teammates and friends. The game started with Paul Leonardo’s daughter, Kelly, throwing the ceremonial first pitch.
“Look at this,” Leonardo said after the game. “My brother is looking down and smiling right now.”
The game was competitive throughout, as the lead went back and forth and different stars took turns in the spotlight.
Ceres’ Nicole Bates took center stage early with a triple and a run in the first inning against Turlock ace Mariah Gonzalez. Bates later hit a two-run homer to right field off Pitman’s Alexis Mettler.
“I was just looking for a pitch I could handle,” Bates said. “I got an inside pitch. It felt good when I hit it. I was just hoping for a double.”
Pacheco graduate Gia Rodoni showed why she’s headed to Baylor on a softball scholarship. Rodoni threw the first three innings for the WAC, picking up three strikeouts and allowing three hits. She also went 2 for 2 with two runs and an RBI.
“This was a lot of fun,” Rodoni said. “It was nice to be on a different team with players from scattered schools. We got to play with different girls and see what they’re about.”
The CCC broke through in the third against Rodoni by playing small ball. Merced’s Megan Kravec led off with a soft liner that fell for a single. Atwater’s Hayley Lawrence beat out a bunt single, and Merced’s Katelynn Gietler moved both runners into scoring position with another bunt.
Atwater’s Maritza Iglesias laid down a third consecutive bunt to score Kravec and cut the WAC lead to 2-1. Mahy then hit a deep fly to left to score Lawrence with the tying run.
Mettler singled in two runs in the fifth to give the CCC a brief 4-2 lead. Bates answered with her two-run blast in the bottom of the inning, and the WAC took a 5-4 lead on a single by Sagapolu.
The Merced trio of Monique Collins, Shelbee Ward and Kravec spearheaded a two-run rally in the sixth for the CCC. Each had a hit with Collins and Ward scoring to give the CCC a 6-5 lead.
“It was cool with all three of us together again one last time,” Ward said. “Being a senior and not being with my girls again is kind of sad. Mo got a hit, I got a hit and Meg got a hit to bring us around.”
El Capitan ace Cassie Gasper did her best to keep the WAC in the game, throwing a scoreless eighth and ninth inning, including striking out the side in the ninth.
That set the stage for the WAC, as Rodoni and Ceres’ Mahlena O’Neal singled to start the rally. El Capitan’s McKenzie Schumacher entered as a courtesy runner for O’Neal. Both runners moved up on a wild pitch, and Sagapolu sent the WAC home a winner with her third hit. She also had three RBIs.
Los Banos coach Dustin Caropreso feels he could win a lot of games with the talent he had in his dugout.
“I’ll tell you what, with a team like that ... it would be a lot of fun. It would be special,” he said. “This was awesome. To win it in the last inning. It was tough to finagle the lineup with all these girls, but it all worked out. The girls had fun.”
Shawn Jansen: (209) 385-2462