Arbor View edges Palo Verde in key softball matchup

If the Arbor View softball team qualifies for the Class 4A Sunset Region playoffs, the Aggies will look back at Friday’s game as a big reason why.

Freshman outfielder Kristina Billante singled in Amanda Jones with the winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning as the host Aggies beat Palo Verde 3-2 in a key Northwest League game.

The win gives fourth-place Arbor View (14-12, 6-4 Northwest) a two-game lead in the standings on Palo Verde with four games remaining in the regular season. Only the top four teams qualify for the playoffs.

“This was another (game) we wanted, regardless of playoffs,” said Aggies coach Hilary Eisen, whose team never has reached the postseason. “They wanted to show that we’re not a team to be taken lightly.”

It was a game of missed opportunities for the Panthers (11-14, 4-6), who squandered several scoring chances before breaking through in the top of the seventh inning.

Missy McCormick singled leading off, and, after a sacrifice bunt by Rachel Mez, Erika Stratton walked to put runners on first and second. Lauren Stover then grounded out, moving both runners into scoring position, before Desi King lined a two-run single to right that tied the game at 2.

“I like the high-pressure situations,” King said. “I kept telling myself, 'This is my time.’ I guess I just saw the ball and took it where it needed to be.”

But the Aggies put together a two-out rally off McCormick in the bottom of the inning. Jones singled and went to third on Nichole

Diaz’s infield hit when no Palo Verde player covered the base. That set the stage for Billante, who dumped a 2-and-1 pitch into shallow left for the game-winning hit.

“It felt like I made up for what I did earlier,” said Billante, who committed a first-inning error. “I just had to clear my head and try to go up there swinging and get them in.”

Diaz finished 3-for-4 with two doubles, one RBI and a run. Jones scattered seven hits and pitched her way out of three jams to earn the victory.

“Amanda pitched an amazing game, which obviously helps,” Eisen said.

The Panthers had runners on second and third with no outs in the first inning but were unable to cash in. Diaz made a diving catch in center field to save a run and end the third inning. Palo Verde then loaded the bases in the top of the fourth, but Jones struck out Mez to end the threat.

In all, the Panthers left nine runners on base.

“We could have put the ball in play a little more,” King said.

Arbor View took a 1-0 lead in the fourth as Jones reached on an error, stole second and continued to third when the throw from

Stratton went into center field. Diaz then followed with a run-scoring double to center, the first hit McCormick allowed.

The Aggies went up 2-0 in the sixth as Diaz led off with a double and scored on Chelsea Venable’s two-out double off the wall in right-center field.

“I think we came together as a team and played more as a unit instead of individuals,” Eisen said. “They were much looser and had fun and weren’t so stressed.”