TEMPLETON — Two North County softball teams continue to bust the CIF Central Section playoff brackets, while a third team is proving its lofty seed is no fluke. All three teams — Atascadero, Paso Robles and Templeton — moved into the semifinals of their respective divisions with wins on Thursday, May 9.
Atascadero and Paso Robles won on the road, while the second-seeded Eagles (15-5), behind another dominating performance from their senior pitcher Ashley Daugherty, easily dispatched visiting Tulare Union (12-13-2) in their Division 3 quarterfinal matchup.
Templeton’s Daughtery did not allow a hit in Thursday’s 9-0 victory. Only twice did the Tribe put the ball into play against the Eagles’ ace and Texas A&M commit. Each time the Eagles’ defense was there to make the play.
Not only was Daugherty operating at the top of her game in the circle, but she also came through in the batter’s box.
In the last game of the regular season, Daugherty accomplished a career milestone few reach in high school. She struck out the side in the top of the first inning against Arroyo Grande and in doing so eclipsed 1,000 career strikeouts.
“It is an unexplainable feeling I guess,” Daugherty said regarding the 1,000 strikeouts. “All of the hard work that I put in finally pays off and it’s not really a feeling you can describe you just feel like you are on top of the world.”
But she and the Eagles weren’t done yet.
In Thursday’s quarterfinal, the Templeton right-hander was nearly perfect as she struck out 20 in the complete-game seven-inning shutout. Daugherty was a walk in the third inning away from a perfect game.
Even though she walked just one, this game was as impressive as any she’s had over her four years.
As impressed as Templeton varsity softball coach Keith Swank was with Daugherty's performance in the circle, he was equally as happy with his team’s approach at the plate. Runs have not come easy down the stretch for the Eagles, who scored just eight runs total in their last three games, all wins, fortunately.
“We had a couple of low-scoring games with Paso and AG to end the season and then against St. Joe to start CIF,” Swank said. “We really were just not — you know we won the games but we were not producing and we were not having good at-bats, so to actually put some runs up and have some good at-bats our confidence level is just going to skyrocket.”
Thursday’s offensive output by the Eagles was their largest run total since April 16, when they beat San Luis Obispo 10-0.
If the Eagles’ bats stay hot, Swank knows that with the always-steady Daugherty, the Eagles will are going to be a tough out in their semifinal against third-seeded Selma on Tuesday.
“It is huge [to get the bats going],” Swank said. “Ashley gives us such an advantage because she throws so well and she keeps their scores down. So if we can put the ball into play we always have a good shot.”
The Eagles offense exploded in the second inning for seven runs as the Eagles batted through the order with seven batters reaching base. Templeton loaded the bases with only one out thanks to singles from Alani Mott and Makaila Landis plus a Maddie George taking one off the elbow. A Megan Ingle walk brought home the Eagles’ first run and Tuesday’s hero Izzy Cowne followed up with an infield RBI single. Next into the box was the former Los Padres League MVP, Daugherty who contributed to her own cause driving in two runs on a base hit into centerfield.
Templeton moved Isabella Backer behind Daugherty in the lineup in the three hole in an effort to force teams to pitch to her and it paid off as she hit a drive all the way to the wall bringing home two more runs and giving the Eagles a commanding 6-0 lead.
Mott, who scored the first run of the inning, recorded her second hit of the inning, driving in one more run to complete the huge inning.
After two wins in the playoffs, the Eagles are a win away from playing for a CIF Central Section title and will host in Selma (18-9) on Tuesday at Vineyard Elementary.
Although this is another deep playoff run for the Eagles and Daugherty, this year’s was not a sure thing due to Templeton graduating some key pieces.
Last year Templeton team went undefeated in the regular season and was seen by many as Templeton’s best chance to return to CIF championship glory. The pressure could be felt by the girls on the field, but this season came without expectations and now the girls are starting to believe.
“So many people put pressure on, like, that was the team to win it all, like, that was the team to go to CIF,” Daugherty said. “We didn’t really have that pressure this year, we didn’t really have that pressure at all. We are here and it is kind of just like why not us? We are here, we can do it.”
The Eagles jumped into the Mountain League this year and played against teams like Atascadero and Paso Robles, which are both currently in the CIF Central Section semifinals for Division 1.
“Last year we were kind of reversed being in the Southern Section,” Swank said. “We had a little easier league schedule and then in CIF it got tougher and now the teams we are facing aren’t any better than the teams we see on a regular basis. I think that is huge for us and is making all the difference in the world.”
As the saying goes iron sharpens iron and even the players, those that are old enough to have played in the LPL, have noticed the uptick in competition and how it has helped the team in the postseason.
“I think that all season long our league has just been preparing us for this moment right now,” Daugherty claimed. “I am so happy that we moved into the Mountain League this year. The competition is crazy different from last year.”
Six different Eagles recorded a hit for Templeton on Thursday with Daugherty and Mott each recording multiple hits. Daugherty blasted a two-run shot over the centerfield fence to stretch the score to 9-0 and bring her RBI total to four on a 3-for-4 day.
Templeton will welcome Selma on Tuesday at 4:30 with a chance to play for a CIF title on the line.
“It’s going to be hard,” freshman shortstop Cowne said. “We didn’t think that we were going to come this far but it feels great.’