Independence softball captures D-III section title

Independence celebrates its 11-5 win Saturday against Kerman in the Central Section Division III softball championship at Fresno State’s Margie Wright Field.

ERIC PAUL ZAMORA / Fresno Bee/

FRESNO — For Mike D’Amato and the Independence High softball team it was mission accomplished in more ways than one Saturday afternoon at Margie Wright Field at Fresno State.

Independence banged out 17 hits (all singles) en route to an 11-5 victory over Kerman to win the Central Section Division III softball championship.

In addition to being champs, D’Amato said the Falcons can now be considered legit.

“The program has been looking for lift up,” said D’Amato, who led Garces to the D-III title in 2006. “This means on their side of town they’re legit.

Everybody said Ridgeview was legitimate. And you have Stockdale.

But now we’re there. Look where we got ourselves last year (section runner-up). And this year we take it. And league to boot. It’s bonus time. “Maybe these kids will believe in themselves, believe in their school and believe in the program that we set forth.”

They certainly believed Saturday.

Kerman opened up a 1-0 lead in the top of the first but after three innings, Independence, which who returned its top seven hitters and top two pitchers from a year ago, had a commanding 10-1 lead.

The Falcons scored four runs in the third on five hits and an error and came right back in the bottom of the third with six runs on six hits and an error.

Five Independence players had multiple hits and all but one had at least one hit.

“We hit the ball, that’s what we do,” D’Amato said. “We’re not a big power team. We do have power. We’ve hit a lot of triples and doubles this year.”

But the Falcons needed nothing more than timely hitting and solid pitching on Saturday to emerge as champs.

“All four years we’ve worked so hard to get to where we are today,” said senior pitcher Allie Shaw. “I can’t even express how excited I am after this win. And being my senior year, it was just like mind blown. So excited about all the work we’ve put in and it’s finally paying off.”

Shaw pitched 4 2/3 innings, scattering eight hits and striking out two before fellow senior Joselyn Reyes came in to relieve.

Kerman had rallied for three runs in the fifth (on three hits and three errors) and had the bases loaded with two out when Reyes came in. Reyes got a pop out to end the inning.

“I just thought we needed to change it up,” D’Amato said of changing pitchers. “They started getting their timing down. They started hitting the ball hard so I brought in Jocelyn who changed things up. She’s a down-ball, screwball pitcher and you saw it.”

Reyes worked the final 2 1/3 innings, allowing two hits (one a solo homer to Katelyn Ochoa in the seventh).

“I knew we could settle down and knew we would get the outs,” Shaw said. “That’s just how we are. We didn’t let it take us down.

“We never give up. We always fight til the end.”

Reyes admitted she was a little nervous when she came in, but knew there was work to be done.

“I was (thinking) I just need to get this done,” she said. “I knew I had my team behind me.”

There were no problems after that, other than a home run that only meant a difference in the final margin of victory.

“This means the world.” Reyes said of the championship. “This is the first time softball has been a valley champ and I did it with these girls.”

The only other senior on the team, Nichole Price, echoed those sentiments.

“This means everything to me,” said Price, who went 2-for-5 and had two RBI. “I’ve been waiting for this moment for as long as I’ve known about it.”

Mike Griffith can be reached at 661-395-7390. Follow him on Twitter @MikeGriffith54.

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