The Stockdale softball team is back in the Central Section semifinals, and this time the Mustangs don’t have to leave home to get there.
Stockdale beat Southwest Yosemite League rival Liberty 4-2 in the quarterfinals of the Division I playoffs Wednesday at home.
The victory advanced the Mustangs (29-1) to the D-I semifinals again; they lost to eventual champion Clovis-Buchanan on the road last May.
This time, instead of the two-hour drive north, the top-seeded Mustangs will host No. 4 Clovis for a shot at the D-I title game and redemption from last year’s playoff loss – the only one the Mustangs have suffered to a section opponent in the last calendar year.
“Our whole goal was to get there and give ourselves the chance,” Stockdale coach Amanda Hockett said. “We had such a big core with our senior class returning. We want to leave a legacy.”
Stockdale returned seven of the top eight hitters in the lineup from last season, including senior Vanessa Barron and sophomore Izzy Nieblas, who both hit solo home runs for the Mustangs against Liberty (23-8).
The key was finding a replacement at pitcher for 2016 BVarsity Player of the Year McKenna Valencia.
Freshman Sydney Hornbuckle filled that role. She turned in yet another masterful performance in the quarterfinals.
Hornbuckle (20-1) gave up four hits, two to Allison Miller, and had retired 10 consecutive batters going into the seventh inning when Kayla Visant hit a two-run home run with no outs that brought life to the Patriots and broke up the shutout.
The next batter, Valerie Ramirez, sent Stockdale center fielder Desi Moran to the wall, where Moran robbed Ramirez of a back-to-back homer. That prompted Hockett to take a trip to the mound to talk to Hornbuckle.
“I just talked to her about staying focused and regrouping herself and do what she has been doing all game,” Hockett said.
Hornbuckle settled down and finished a complete game with seven strikeouts and another nine outs via ground balls.
“We are going to ride her as long as we can go,” Hockett said. “I need her to be a little bit more mentally focused than what she allowed herself to do in the seventh inning. She is a better pitcher than what she was in the seventh. I think she will be back and ready to fight in our next game.”
The Mustangs have been the top-ranked team in the BVarsity Central Section rankings most of the season and are No. 10 in the state by Cal Hi Sports. Now, they’re two wins away from the program’s first section title since 2013.
“We’ve worked so hard. Everything has come to this point right here,” Hutton said. “We haven’t taken a step back and we are moving forward. It’s a blessing to be here right now.
“It’s awesome, man. This is the best team I’ve played with by far. I want to play that one last game with the best team I have ever played for.”
Liberty lost for the fifth time to Stockdale this season. The Patriots were 23-3 in all other games.
“We knew we would have to come through these guys to get to what we needed,” Liberty interim head coach Jesse Soto said. “I am just glad my crew didn’t stop. They didn’t wait to the last out. They did a great job this year.”