Lady Broncs are CIF CHAMPIONS: History making effort for Kern Valley softball squad

Photo by Jocelyn Newfield / Special to the Sun
Clockwise from above: The Lady Broncs squad and their coaches are all smiles as they pose with their Division 5 CIF Championship plaque. Lexi Baker crosses home plate with what would become the eventual game-winning run. Helen Hayes is all business as she delivers a pitch from the circle. Sadi Hartman the catcher for Kern Valley gets ready to receive the pitch. Mackensie Christensen throws to first base to record an out in the championship game. Lexi Baker takes a hefty cut at the offering from the Highland pitcher. Hayes is awarded the Most Valuable Player of the Game.

By Ray Conner
Sports Editor

This year’s Kern Valley softball team put themselves in the history books.

The Lady Broncs capped off a magical season by claiming their first-ever Central Section CIF title in school history.

It took a total team effort to accomplish this feat as they battled a tough Highland High School of Bakersfield to claim the championship.

Playing as the No. 2 Seed, the Lady Broncs traveled to Fresno State University (Margie Wright Diamond) to square off with the No. 1 seed Highland’s Lady Scots of Bakersfield.

The epic battle went down to the wire as a classic championship game should.

The pitchers were in control as they battled back and forth with neither giving up an inch.

The first three innings the pitchers dominated as they bent a little, but never broke. The game was scoreless through three when Kern Valley was able to take advantage of a pass ball to score a run. Helen Hayes helped herself as she led off the inning with a single. Hannah Ocampo as the flex came into run for Hayes. Lexi Baker followed with a single. One out later, Krista Witten singled to load the bases. It was then that the Highland pitcher threw a pitch, and the catcher had trouble handling it to allow the Lady Broncs to score the run on the pass ball and take a 1-0 lead.

It stayed that way until the sixth inning, when the Lady Broncs added an insurance run they would eventually have to claim.

Baker led off the sixth with a single and was sacrificed to second on a sac bunt from Mackensie Christensen. Witten stepped into the box and delivered the second pitch for a double to bring Baker home and make it a 2-0 margin.

Highland got one back and almost tied the score in their half of the sixth. A lead off triple and a defensive miscue pushed home the Lady Scots first run to make the scoreboard read 2-1. Another error advanced the runner to second, and one more fielding miscue loaded the all the bases. A strikeout and a fielder’s choice cut off the run at home to keep it 2-1.

This was when things got a little on the chaotic side. With two outs in the inning and runners on first and third, the delivery from Hayes got away from Sadi Hartman, who was behind the plate as the Lady Broncs’ catcher. She recovered quickly and scooped up the ball. The Highland runner had come down the line and a rundown ensued.

The runner thought she found a spot to get to home and was ruled safe with the tying run. The umpires got together, and it was determined that the defensive player from the Kern Valley squad had made the tag prior to her reaching home, so it stayed 2-1 for the Lady Broncs heading to the seventh inning.

In the Lady Broncs half of the seventh, they went quietly on a pair of ground outs and a pop up.

The game was not quite in the bag as Highland made one last ditch effort to tie or win the game.

The first two batters made outs to put Kern Valley with one out of claiming the CIF championship. Hayes issued a free pass and the runner swiped second to put herself in scoring position. But Hayes battled and struck out the lead hitter of the Lady Scots to secure the victory and claim a spot in history for her and the rest of her Lady Broncs teammates.

Hayes (18-2) in the circle went all seven innings for the complete game win. She allowed just three hits and the one unearned run. She walked three batters and struck out six.

Kern Valley as a team collected six hits. They were led by Witten with a two, including the RBI double. Haily Martinez, Sam Alvarez, Hayes, and Baker each had one hit for the Lady Broncs.

Kern Valley’s first-year head coach Brianna Moss said, “This was a great game between the two best teams in our division. Like was expected, Highland has some great hitters. Hayes pitched a great game and was dominant. Hayes earned the MVP award for the game. This win was a complete team effort. Everyone played and contributed. The bottom of our batting order really came through led by Krista Witten, who went 2-3 and had an amazing catch in right field in the first inning that probably took away a triple.”

Prior to advancing to the championship game, Kern Valley had to get past Shafter, who knocked off The Lady Scorpions of Desert to reach the semifinals of the playoffs.

The Lady Generals made the trip up the canyon but found the home team of Lady Broncs were determined to get their shot at possibly winning a CIF Central Section title.

Kern Valley scored and took the early lead as they put up one run in the bottom half of the first inning. They added another run in the second to make it 2-0.

Shafter got right back in it as they pushed two runs home in the top of the third to tie the score at two all.

It stayed that way until the fifth, when Kern Valley regained the lead by scoring one run. They finished off the scoring in the sixth as they scored three times to make the final score 6-2.

Kern Valley, as a team, collected 11 hits in the game. They were led by Martinez with a pair of hits, including a double.

Hartman and Kassy Opferman each had two hits, while Alvarez, Brenna Acosta, Hayes, Witten and Baker each had one hit for the Lady Broncs.

Hayes tossed all seven innings allowing just the two runs. Both were unearned. She gave up one hit while walking four. She struck out 10 Lady Generals.

Kern Valley held their awards ceremony on Tuesday. Hayes was the High Desert League’s Pitcher of the Year. Alvarez was the MVP (Player of the Year). Hartman and Acosta were named First

Team All-League players, while Riley Blunkall and Baker were selected for the second team of HDL All-League.

Honorable Mention went to Martinez and the Academic Award was Alvarez.

The team MVP was split between Alvarez and Hayes, while Most Improved went to Martinez.

Photo by Donna Harris Freelance Photographer
Samantha Alvarez of the Lady Broncs swings the bat through the zone to make contact with the softball in the CIF playoff game against Shafter.

Photo by Jocelyn Newfield / Special to the Sun
Top to bottom: The Lady Broncs have a little fun with the pressure of the game over. The whole team trips over the first base line and subsequently falls to the ground with plenty of championship smiles to go around.