By Travis West | Sports Editor
After losing its first game at state, the RCC softball team had to endure a grueling schedule of three games in two days to play for the state title on May 19 at Bakersfield College.
A double elimination format allowed the Tigers to get a second chance at the state title game against Palomar College, but the road to get there drained the team.
Because of the first loss, the Tigers were forced to play back to back games on May 18. A 5:30 p.m. game against San Mateo College was heavily one sided as the Tigers were able to take down San Mateo 10-2.
Focus quickly shifted from San Mateo to Shasta College with an 8 p.m. start time. Riverside found themselves in a very different game than the one they just finished playing. Shasta was fresh, having played its last game earlier than Riverside and it showed.
When Shasta jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, the Tiger’s needed a spark. Gina Grijalva took control.
Her double to left field in the bottom of the first brought in two runs with another coming off a wild pitch from Shasta, giving the Tigers a third run of the inning.
A solo home run in the bottom of the second and two run homer later in the bottom of the fifth gave the Tiger’s the victory 7-3 setting them up for a shot at the state title against Palomar.
The Tigers needed to win against Palomar to prevent elimination and force a second game to decide the winner of state.
In the first meeting, the game was deadlocked until the fifth inning.
All weekend opponents tried to hold the state’s top player Natalie Barrios from getting going and by the end of four games, Barrios was walked nine times in four games, keeping her neutralized.
Fortunately, the Tigers depth was enough to keep the runs going for Riverside. Grijalva stepped into the batter box and put the team on the board with a run batted in from a single up the middle of the field.
Four more runs in the sixth and three in the seventh gave Palomar its first loss and forced a final game to decide the state champion.
Palomar is no stranger to state. The Comets made their tenth appearance at the state championship this year, being led by the daughter of RCC’s head football coach, Lacy Kraft.
Having played a full game less than the Tigers, the Comets ran away with an early 2-0 lead in the first inning, holding the strong hitting Tigers to six hits, four coming in the bottom of the seventh.
It was a bad day for the Tigers bats as they could not muster any offense through six innings.
Seven errors kept the Tigers from stopping the Comets offense and ultimately loss them the game.
Coming into the championship, pitcher Chelsea Ponce was nearing 200 innings, the only pitcher in state to reach that amount.
The future UCR Highlander was eventually replaced at the end of the third inning by Katherine Macias after Ponce simply ran out of gas. She started every game of the weekend.
Despite the devastating 7-2 loss to Palomar, the Tigers 45 wins will stand as the most all time by any softball team at RCC.
“I wouldn’t have asked for a better team,” Ponce said. “Every struggle and bump … we stuck together.”