Despite beating Tulare Western 11-2 during the regular season, the Garces softball team knew not to expect a similar lopsided result come playoff time.
The Rams were just hoping to squeeze out a Central Section Division II quarterfinal victory of any sort Thursday against the Mustangs.
Led by the pitching and hitting of Cassie Handel, Garces got what it wanted, but by the thinnest of margins.
Handel hurled a four-hitter and smacked an RBI double, and Haley Witt hit a solo home run to lift the fourth-seeded Rams past No. 5 Tulare Western, 2-1, at Garces.
"We knew coming here that they were a good team," Garces coach Mike D'Amato said. "We've watched them grow just as we have. They've gotten tougher and tougher ... I told our kids that even though it was (11-2) last time we played them, it's going to be a different situation. When you're in the playoffs, anything can happen. So we just went out there and we did the job."
Garces (23-8-1) will next face No. 8 Ridgeview, which defeated top-seeded Sanger 3-2 on Thursday.
The game will take place on Tuesday. That's the same night as Garces' graduation ceremonies.
The Rams, winners of 13 straight games, are 2-0 against the Wolf Pack this season.
It took a solid all-around effort for Garces to beat the Mustangs (21-11) a second time.
Handel, backed by Witt's fourth homer of the year, a third-inning blast over the center field fence, never trailed.
"I needed to pull through for my team," Witt said of her homer. "I did it for my team. It was a team effort behind that whole pitch. We all wanted it, so we just made it happen."
Handel, a senior right-hander, held Tulare Western scoreless until two outs in the seventh, whenNatalie Frausto whacked an 0-2 pitch out of the park.
Prior to that, the Mustangs stranded seven runners, six in scoring position.
"We threatened several times, but we just never did just get the hit when we needed to," Tulare Western coach Steve Bullock said.
Handel, who issued one walk and hit four batters, didn't allow a hit until the fourth inning.
"Cassie threw the ball well," D'Amato said. "... She seemed to buckle down and really focused on the hitters when they got runners in scoring position. She didn't let anything bother her on that mound."
Tulare Western pitcher Karalyn DeLaRosa was nearly Handel's equal in the circle. She gave up just five hits and a walk.
Unlike the Mustangs, who came up empty with runners in scoring position, Garces cashed in on a key scoring opportunity in the fourth inning.
Two batters after Rachael Metzger's bloop single, Handel extended the Rams' lead to 2-0 with a double off the top of the fence in center field.
Metzger, Garces' junior catcher, went 2-for-3, raising her season batting average to .526, second best on the team.
She was the only Rams' player with multiple hits.
Frausto was 2-for-3 with a hit-by-pitch for Tulare Western. Mustangs' freshman slugger Kelcey Carrasco was hit by pitches all three times she came to the plate.
Up 2-0, the Rams missed a golden opportunity to pad their lead in the sixth.
Metzger's second single of the game and a double by Naize Ubay put runners on second and third with one out.
Handel bashed a fly ball to deep center that looked initially like it might have the distance for a home run but was caught in the air at the fence for an out. On the play both runners attempted to advance a base but Brenna Gonzalez, running for Metzger, was ruled out on appeal for leaving third too early.
"That could have been a big inning for us," D'Amato said. "We could have added a couple of more runs. I thought that might come back to haunt us."
It almost did in the seventh. After Frausto's home run, Chloe Hernandez reached on error. However, with the tying run on first, Handel got DeLaRosa to fly out and end the game.
While the Rams were in the middle of their post-game meeting, the PA announcer gave the result of the Ridgeview victory over Sanger.
That news was greeted with a loud cheer from the Garces fans and team, happy to get another home game.