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Johansen softball advances to D1 title game

STOCKTON — When the ball rolled out of Jazmine Pedrotti's glove, denying her an acrobatic catch in the bottom of the seventh inning, Johansen High was concerned that this one might still get away.

One out from celebrating Johansen's greatest softball victory over, the play gave Pleasant Grove one more chance.

"When you're that close to winning, and something like that happens, you wonder if it will be the difference," assistant coach Corey Reid said.

Not this time, not with the way the Vikings are playing.

With the tying run on third and the winning run on second, Lizzie Perez got the next batter to pop it straight up.

Catcher Chelsea Guenther collected it in her oversized glove to clinch a 1-0 upset of Pleasant Grove, California's No. 3softball team, and send Johansen to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1 title game.

"This is one of those times you can say 'no one expected us to be here,' and be right," coach Debbie Guenther said. "That's one of the best teams in the country there, and we just beat them. This is amazing of kids we've got here."

It was the fourth consecutive win for Johansen (27-5), which lost its second game of the double-elimination Saturday and has been facing a do-or-die situation each game.

As challenging as Pleasant Grove was — it debuted at No. 1 this spring in at least national poll — Johansen faces an even larger challenge tonight when it faces state-ranked No. 2 Elk Grove (24-3).

It begins at 5 at the Sacramento Softball Complex, and Johansen must beat the Thundering Herd twice for a title.

"I feel like a million bucks, no, more than a million," said Perez, a sophomore who went pitch-for-pitch with Pleasant Grove's Ally Cardy (who has committed to UCLA). "My defense was great. It was a great effort by Jazmine, getting so close, but we have her back."

Johansen had never won a playoff game before this year, having gone 0-2 in its two previous trips. Now they're playing for a championship, something no Modesto Metro Conference teams has done since Davis won the crown in 1994.

"We'll come out with intensity for Elk Grove," promised Guenther, who started a crucial double play in the sixth.

But first, let's get back to that intense seventh inning.

Pleasant Grove had a runner on second and two out when Mercedes Acosta hit a blooper in front of Pedrotti. She dove for the ball, kicking up a could of dust, but it trickled out of her glove as she landed hard. A quick stolen base put two runners in scoring position for the Eagles.

Perez then fired a 1-1 pitch that No. 9 hitter Kirsten Willmon popped up. Guenther, casting her mask aside, used both hands to bring it in.

Like that, a wave of purple rolled into the infield — players and coaches alike, and eventually even some fans.

Cardy struck out 17 and allowed just three hits, while Perez struck out seven and also allowed three hits.

Johansen scored the lone run in the third when No. 9 hitter Sydney Vasquez drew a one-out walk and Gabby Maurice followed with a single. Cardy struck out Sadie Coenen, but Theresa Martin hit a shot that glanced off the first baseman's glove and rolled away. Martin, sprinting down the line, beat the throw to first as the run scored.

It was appropriate provide the key hit, because she was the hitting star in Johansen's first game of the night.

She had a three-run double and a two-run homer in an 11-2 rout of Napa, a victory that sent Johansen into the battle with Pleasant Grove.

Bee staff writer Richard T. Estrada can be reached at restrada@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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