BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer email@example.com
Nisa Ontiveros strikes out an awful lot of batters for Ridgeview High's softball team, but she's not afraid to rely on her defense.
That became quite literal in the seventh inning of Wednesday's Central Section Division III semifinal, when Ontiveros went full extension to catch an infield pop-up, lost her balance -- and caught herself when she wrapped second baseman Jackie Marintez in a bear hug.
CENTRAL Section SOFTBALL PLAYOFFS
D-I SEMIFINALS: No. 4 Clovis West 7, No. 1 Visalia-El Diamante 6; No. 2 Fresno-Central 11, No. 3 Clovis-Buchanan 1
D-II SEMIFINALS: No. 8 Porterville-Monache 9, No. 4 Frontier 2; No. 2 Clovis North 2, No. 6 Lemoore 1
D-III SEMIFINALS: No. 1 Ridgeview 6, No. 5 Independence 0; No. 2 Hanford West 5, No. 3 Kingsburg 3
D-IV SEMIFINALS: No. 1 Taft 4, No. 4 Riverdale 3 (8 inn.); No. 6 Fowler 7, No. 7 Tulare-Mission Oak 0
D-V SEMIFINALS: No. 4 Selma 3, No. 1 Exeter 2; No. 2 Liberty-Mad. Ranchos 13, No. 3 Lindsay 1
D-VI FINAL: No. 1 Hanford-Sierra Pacific 13, No. 3 Laton 1
Ridgeview breathed a sigh of relief and finished its 6-0 rout of Independence.
"I almost tripped, and instead of falling, I saw her and kind of used her for that," Ontiveros said with a laugh. "She's always there for me."
Ontiveros finished with a two-hitter and seven strikeouts, though she also dared Independence hitters to put the ball in play early in the count. The Wolf Pack defense committed one meaningless error, and Ontiveros threw just 75 pitches -- 61 for strikes -- in her seven innings.
"I just tried to get ahead of them and attack them; I didn't want to get behind in the count," Ontiveros said. "My main goal was to make them put it in play and trust my defense.
"I love them. I know that if anybody puts it in play, they're there to get anything and everything."
Next for the Wolf Pack (31-3-1): A chance to defend its D-III section title at home Friday against Hanford West, which beat Kingsburg on a walk-off home run in the other semifinal.
"It'll be a good game," Ridgeview coach Jerry Dumatrait said. "We're very confident in ourselves. This team has won over 60 games in two years, so we know how to win."
Last year, Ridgeview beat Kerman in a 1-0, eight-inning battle, just as the Wolf Pack beat Hanford in last week's quarterfinals.
This one was much easier.
Independence (15-18) made six errors, leading to four unearned runs and taking pressure off of the top seed.
"We have these games, and I knew there was a chance we'd have one," Independence coach Staci Yoder said. "And when we have one, it's usually a domino effect."
The Falcons played Ridgeview tough in a 2-1 loss early in the season, but since then have lost two of their best players, leadoff hitter Marisala Gonzales (injury) and utility player Desiray Rubio (academic ineligiblity).
"We've had a lot of ups and downs as far as injuries and grades," Yoder said. "Those are huge losses for us."
Ridgeview contributed offensively, too. Madelaine Wilen doubled, Courtleigh Brown was 3-for-3 with a double and Jessica Castaneda led off the fifth with a home run to left field.
"We've been in a funk on our hitting, but hopefully we'll have them all going Friday," Dumatrait said. "If we're hitting, there's not a whole lot of teams that can match up with us. If we're not, it'll be a close game."
That would be fine for Ontiveros, who doesn't usually need much help.
She allowed a second-inning bloop single to Britny Ward, then didn't allow another hit until Maddie Arambula singled to right with two outs in the seventh. In between, she retired 16 of 17 Falcons, with the only blemish a hit batter in the sixth.
"We have that pitcher to dominate," Dumatrait said. "That's nice."
She'll be back in the circle Friday, when the Cal commit tries to end her high school career with another title.
"Our goal was to get back, and we got there," Ontiveros said. "Now we've got to take it all."