NCS softball playoffs: A surprising home run helps San Ramon Valley advance to D-I final
DANVILLE – San Ramon Valley sophomore Sophia Jin had scored 30 runs this season, and 66 in two years on the varsity.
But Tuesday afternoon was the first time that Jin could take her time rounding the bases.
Her solo home run in the bottom of the third inning, a bomb that helped push San Ramon Valley to a 4-3 victory over Freedom and a berth in Friday’s North Coast Section Division I title game vs. California at St. Mary’s College, was the first time she had hit a ball over the fence.
Jin later said she had never done it at any level of competition.
Several players had their mouths open in amazement (or perhaps shock) while watching the ball sail through the air, awe turning into joy as they mobbed the sophomore at home plate.
“Once I got that pitch, I swung as hard as I could,” Jin said, who then laughed and added, “I wasn’t really trying to hit a home run, but it happened.”
Lifetime home run number one was the highlight, but it was far from Jin’s only contribution in a back-and-forth game against a spirited Freedom team.
Jin scored in the first inning, stealing third and then sprinting home after a wild throw got away from the defense. Jin was 2 for 3 with one RBI and three runs.
Freedom leveled it in the top of the third on a Madison Evers-Lyles RBI infield single. Jin’s drive over the centerfield wall in the bottom of the third put SRV back on top 2-1, a lead that increased to two runs when pitcher Paige McLeod hammered a leadoff home run on the first pitch she saw.
As San Ramon Valley would find out, Freedom was not a team that would just roll over and quit. Maya Soto cut the deficit to one run on a sacrifice fly in the top of the fifth, and Evers-Lyles drove Soto in on another infield single and tied the game at three.
“We were fighters, and no matter how many runs we were down, there was always a chance we could come back,” Freedom coach Hannah Williams said. “That’s something you can’t teach.”
On the box score, Sophia Baccei did not record a hit or RBI, but she made a massive contribution after the top half of the inning came to an end with the score tied at three apiece. She gathered her teammates and implored them to focus.
Sophomore catcher Ava Lyons responded with an RBI single into center that scored, of course, Jin from second base with two outs.
“After Sophia gave that speech, we were like ‘It’s a new ballgame, 0-0, so let’s just hit,’” said Lyons.
Senior pitcher McLeod finished a complete game by retiring the last six Freedom batters in a row, inducing five groundouts and one of her five strikeouts to secure SRV’s trip to St. Mary’s College and end Freedom’s season with an 18-10 record.
The NCS title game berth is special for several reasons. SRV coach Lori Smith believed it was the first time SRV (23-5) had ever made it to the NCS title game.
“This is a huge deal for us, and it couldn’t be done with a better group of girls,” Smith said.
On top of that, East Bay Athletic League rival California defeated SRV 2-1 in late April, a loss that is still fresh in the mind of San Ramon Valley’s star player.
“It’s a revenge match,” Jin said.