TEMPLETON — The Templeton Eagles softball team will be playing for their first CIF Championship in the sport since 2006 on Saturday at Fresno State after defeating third-seeded Selma High School 14-3 on Tuesday.
Such a lopsided score would lead many to believe that this game was a cakewalk for the Eagles, much like their 9-0 takedown of Tulare Union in the quarterfinals, but that was not the case as this was a tight, tension-filled game until the fifth inning when Templeton reeled off 10 consecutive two-out runs after Selma closed the lead to a run in the top half of the inning.
While it has been the golden arm of Ashley Daugherty that has carried the Eagles much of the way this year — she has recorded 52 strikeouts in her last three games including being just one walked batter away from a perfect game in the quarterfinals — it was the freshmen bats that put this one away for the team in green on Tuesday. Izzy Cowne, Alani Mott and Alex Dahlen each recorded three hits and at least one RBI on the afternoon to push Templeton to its highest offensive output of the season and only their second 10-run-rule victory.
The Eagle girls started this game on fire offensively and ended it by going supernova. Cowne, who has been Templeton’s hottest bat through the playoffs, accounted for the team’s only hits and runs scored in the opening round, led off the game with a single to right field. A Daugherty ground out in the next at-bat, moved Cowne to second who was then driven home via an Isabella Backer double to center field on a 3-1 pitch down the middle. Next up for Eagles was freshman Mott who after fouling off back-to-back pitches dropped a single into right field scoring Backer and giving the Eagles a commanding 2-0 lead with their ace in the circle.
Coming off a nearly perfect game, one walk shy, and with two runs already in her pocket Daugherty went to work striking out the side. It seemed as though the pitchers for both teams were beginning to settle in after the first inning as the second and third innings passed quickly without much action on the base paths.
Templeton was able to add two runs in the bottom of the third inning when the top of their lineup came up again giving them a 4-0 lead that felt like 40-0 with Daugherty looking as unhittable as usual, until she didn’t. The Bears led off the fourth inning with another strikeout and then suddenly the monotonous rhythm of Daugherty’s pitches sinking into catcher Maddie George’s glove was broken up with loud crack of the batt. Everyone’s faces looked up as fans and players rubbed their eyes as if they were seeing a mirage in the desert watching the ball continue to sail and land behind the wall for a home run.
It was the only run Daugherty gave up in the inning but the blast from the Bears revitalized and refocused their team.
The Bears entered the fifth inning trailing by three runs and would never have guessed that it would be their last inning of the season. Daugherty allowed the leadoff batter to reach base by accidentally hitting her and gave up a single in the next at-bat on a nice bunt that was laid down softly in front of her. The pressure of the playoffs began to rise and the tension within the stadium was palpable. A wild pitch to the backstop allowed the runners to advance into scoring position and another one allowed a run to score cutting the lead to only two points.
Selma then laid down another perfect bunt and in the heat of the chaotic moment Daugherty went home with the throw but it wasn’t in time and suddenly the lead that felt untouchable stood at only one, 4-3, with no outs in the inning.
After taking a brief second to recollect herself Daugherty dialed it back in forcing a pop out in the next at-bat and then let out a heroic scream after striking out the next two batters to end the inning.
“We started really strong and I was happy,” Templeton head coach Keith Swank said. “Ashley was throwing really well, we got some runs up and if we give her a little bit of a lead she keeps it for us. We kind of stumbled there a little in the fifth, we made a couple of errors and they got some good bunts down and they got right back in it and you know that was tough emotion wise because we had that lead for several innings.”
Templeton entered the bottom of the fifth inning as lively as a morgue but George was able to draw a lead-off walk. The next two batters for the Eagles struck out and then, like a movie, something changed. The boys baseball team, who had been practicing just a few feet away from the game, gathered in the outfield to cheer their team on when they needed them most. As Templeton’s no. 9 hitter Alex Dahlen dug into the box the Selma centerfielder began complaining about the noise coming from the new rambunctious group of fans in the outfield. While their pitcher was rolling off back-to-back strikeouts and with all the momentum on their side and just one out away from finishing the inning, Selma inexplicably went to the officials and stopped the game asking to move the team from centerfield.
After the confusion of what they wanted became clear, the players moved but not far enough for the umpire who again stopped the game and told them to move further. After about a seven-minute delay the game resumed and everything changed.
The Selma pitcher lost her rhythm and more importantly, the Eagles were now not worried about the score or the nerves, they seemed angry. Dahlen promptly singled on one of the hardest hit balls of the day bringing up the top of the order for the Templeton. The next six Eagle batters either doubled or walked as Templeton extended the lead to 10-3, all with two outs in the inning. The crowd that had grown somber to start the inning now looked like the mosh pit at a KISS concert as it seemed destiny had taken over. George drew her second walk of the inning meaning Templeton had officially batted through the order but they weren’t done yet. Another Dahlen single stretched the lead to 12-3 and Cowne, the hero from game one stepped in for her second at-bat in the fifth.
“I am thinking get a run in,” Cowne said. “Just get a hit and make contact was all I was thinking about.”
What Cowne didn’t realize is that with two more runs the Eagles would officially 10-run-rule the Bears, ending the game immediately.
“We just had hit and I started to get that feeling that this was the inning,” Daugherty said, “I might not have to go back out there.”
Cowne wasted no time and took the first pitch she saw into the outfield bringing home two runs and extending the lead to 14-3. The celebration was paused for just a few seconds as Swank and the umpire discussed the 10-run-rule and then suddenly it was over. Confetti cannons fired off and so did the waterworks as parents and players teared up realizing that on Saturday they will be playing for a CIF Championship.
“It is crazy, I have been working so hard at batting practices with my batting coach Steve Ogden and I am just so lucky to be here,” Cowne said after the game through a smile stretching from ear to ear. “I have worked so hard, the whole team won it today. The whole team.”
It was the offense the won the game for Eagles on Tuesday as every single girl that appeared in the game reached base and six different girls recorded an RBI. Cowne led the way offensively going 3-for-5 and tallying four RBI. Baker, Mott and Makaila Landes each recorded two RBI on the day while each of the Ingle sisters and Dahlen notched one.
“We have been working hard, we have been going at it since September,” Daugherty said. “Our eight freshmen have just pushed and grinded all season long and I couldn’t be more proud of our team right now.”
It was last year’s senior-heavy team that was supposed to play for a CIF title but it is this year’s team that will.
“You know last year, we were so close but we didn’t get there so to get there this year is just extra sweet, to be honest,” Swank said.
The Eagles are the No. 2 seeded team in the Division 3 CIF Central Section and will face the No. 1 seed in Dinuba on Saturday at Fresno State with first pitch scheduled to start around 11:45 a.m.
The team that was never supposed to make it this far now feels like they belong and with one more victory they will be the champions.
“I just want to say never underestimate the underdog,” Daugherty said. “Because that is what we have been all season long and look where we are now.”