TAFT -- The zeroes were beginning to pile up on the scoreboard Tuesday at Taft High's softball field, but sophomore pitcher Arizona Pilgrim wasn't worried -- she knew the Wildcats have plenty of big bats.
This time, it turns out Pilgrim's bat was the biggest of all. Pilgrim threw a no-hitter from the pitcher's circle and hit a three-run home run to jump-start Taft's offense in a 10-0, five-inning victory over Wasco in a battle of South Sequoia League unbeatens.
"A-Z has really started to hit the ball; she just hammered that pitch," Taft coach Russell Emberson said. "And then to throw a no-hitter, too, she really did it all for us today."
Pilgrim struck out seven and didn't walk a batter against Wasco (16-8, 4-1 SSL), which had scored 12 or more runs in each of its past four games. The Tigers' only baserunner reached via error in the top of the fifth inning, with Pilgrim combining her riseball and curveball to flummox a good lineup.
"A no-hitter always feels like an accomplishment," Pilgrim said. "I know I did my job to help my team."
Still, the first three innings were a frustration for Taft's offense. Wasco pitcher Madie Wedel worked around a leadoff double in the first inning and retired the Wildcats (16-6, 7-0) in order in the second. In the third, Taft had a runner thrown out at third when she thought Caitlyn Emberson's fly-ball out had been a home run.
"I thought we played a strong first three innings," Wasco coach Christina Nance said. "They're a very strong team with a strong pitcher and catcher (Emberson), but we think we're developing a strong team, too."
Nance said things unraveled for the Tigers because of mistakes. After Wedel hit Mikaela Davis to open the bottom of the fourth, Corie Evans reached on an error to put two runners on for Pilgrim, who deposited the first pitch over the left-field fence. Four more walks, another error and three wild pitches helped Taft add seven more runs over the next two innings to seal the run-rule victory.
"I knew we'd get going eventually," Pilgrim said. "I'm confident in my team."
Confident enough that Pilgrim and the Wildcats aren't afraid to say that their goal is to get back to the Central Section Division IV championship game and make up for last year's heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Fowler.
"We think about it during every game," Pilgrim said. "We always say, 'Remember what happened in that game last year?' It makes us push harder every game."
Aiding the Wildcats' cause is some increased experience and maturity. Last year, key players Pilgrim and Emberson were freshmen and Halle Neher and Haylee Tracy were sophomores.
"I think they've been able to take charge of the team a little more," Russell Emberson said. "Our seniors are still stepping up, but we only start three. We're still really young."
Pilgrim said the difference is intangible.
"We're just a little more comfortable," she said. "Last year as freshmen, we were just a little intimidated; we didn't know what to do. This year we're more comfortable."
It shows. Besides Pilgrim's huge day, Neher was 3-for-4 with two RBIs, and senior Kelsey Wilmer was 2-for-2 with two RBIs out of the No. 9 spot.
Caitlyn Emberson was 0-for-3 on hard-hit balls but is still hitting better than .500 for the season.
"We don't worry about stats and seedings and things like that," Russell Emberson said. "That stuff will take care of itself when the time comes."