Sydney Hornbuckle was just trying to make sure the dugout didn’t erupt onto the field too soon.
Stockdale softball coach Amanda Hockett was just trying to ensure Taylor Hardin knew to round third and sprint home.
Hardin just wanted to be sure she touched the plate.
And freshman Lexi Rolin just wanted to see the ball hit the grass in right field.
All of that happened simultaneously as Rolin’s opposite-field single scored Hardin from second base and No. 3 Stockdale defeated No. 7 Atascadero 1-0 in the Central Section Division I softball semifinals on Tuesday.
The place was pandemonium after the play for a multitude of reasons.
First, it snapped a three-year run of losses for Stockdale in the D-I semifinals and is the first trip back to the section championships since 2011 for the Mustangs.
Second, the hit came after Atascadero ace Bailey Dougherty completely shut down Stockdale for the first six innings during which the Mustangs struck out 13 times in the first 18 outs. Kim Mireles’ singles in the third and sixth innings were the lone base runners for Stockdale until Izzy Nielbas doubled off the centerfield wall to open up the bottom of the seventh.
Third, it increases Sydney Hornbuckle’s scoreless streak for Stockdale to 19 innings heading into Friday’s finals against No. 5 Fresno-Bullard at 7:30 p.m. at Margie Wright Diamond at Fresno State.
But let’s go back to where that inning started.
Nieblas, a four-year starter at first for Stockdale, nearly ended the game with one swing as her double landed 10 feet from the fence.
Nieblas then advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by Jayden Beam. But on a squeeze bunt by Hardin, Nieblas was tagged out at home on a fantastic play by Greyhounds’ catcher Claire Lohayza.
Then Hardin advanced to second on a passed ball that set up the game-winner.
“I knew I had to book it and I gave it my all,” Hardin said. “If I had to take the catcher out, then I got to take the catcher out. It’s such an incredible feeling. When I saw it go to right, I knew.”
Rolin said she wasn’t as comfortable until she saw the throw from third go over Lohayza’s head as Hardin slide into home.
“Whenever I turned and saw they made a bad throw and Taylor scored,” Rolin said. “It’s amazing.”
For Hockett, the moment means a chance at redemption for her team after heart-breaking losses the previous three seasons in the semifinals.
“The emotion right now for all of us are just unbelievable,” she said. “We’ve been working so hard for this. Me personally, I haven’t got past this game in a long time. It’s a great feeling and to have a player who struck out twice swinging come up with the game-winner is what softball is all about.”
To Hornbuckle, and her twin sister, Katelyn, this is something special after the two matched Doughtery and Lohayza inning for inning.
“I couldn’t do it without Kate,” Sydney said. “This is really big. On Izzy’s last at-bat when she hit it to the fence I wanted to start crying. I almost did, but I told myself not to. Then when Lexi hit that final ball, I was trying pull people back from the dugout for not celebrating too early.”
Hornbuckle gave up a lead-off hit to Lohayza on the first pitch of the game and yielded a single to Dougherty in the sixth. The junior ace has given up just three hits in the past two games.
And now, the Colorado State commit will get a chance to pitch in a stadium in high school where she will play in during her college career.
“This was a milestone for her,” Hockett said. “She has got us to the semifinals her freshman and sophomore years and she hasn’t had her best outings. But in these playoffs there is a little extra in her. For her to go to (Fresno State) and make an impact at somewhere she’s going to play (in college) … it’s everything that you want.”
It also means the three seniors for Stockdale in Nieblas, Beam and Hardin leave their home field for the last time with tears of joy, rather than unhappiness.
“Us seniors just started crying,” Hardin said. “The whole team started crying. We’ve worked so hard for this all year and to finally get what we deserve is such an amazing feeling.”