Ally Snelling almost homered in her first at-bat Thursday against Rancho pitcher Sam Pochop.
The Palo Verde senior didn’t miss the next time she came to the plate.
Snelling smashed a go-ahead, two-run homer in the bottom of the fourth inning, and the Panthers held on for a 3-2 victory in the opening round of the Class 4A state softball tournament at Bishop Gorman.
Palo Verde (35-5) plays Reed (33-2-1) in the winners’ bracket final at 2 p.m. Friday at Gorman, with the winner advancing to Saturday’s championship.
“A win is a win, and it kind of came in a rough, frustrating fashion today, but at this point, we’re just looking to get to Saturday,” Snelling said. “That’s really our main focus, so we’re glad to get this first one under our belt.”
Rancho left fielder Katerina Anthony robbed Snelling of extra bases with a snow-cone catch at the wall to end the first inning, and the Tulsa-bound Pochop limited the Panthers to one hit through the first three innings.
But Cara Beatty singled up the middle with one out in the fourth for Palo Verde, and Snelling sent the first pitch she saw over the wall in right-center to put Palo Verde ahead 3-2.
“My first at-bat she came first-pitch outside, and I wanted to attack first pitch,” Snelling said. “I knew that she was coming back in, so I was just waiting for that and letting the hands fly at that point.”
Rancho (24-13) threatened in the sixth, putting runners on second and third with two outs. Palo Verde pitcher Taylor Askland recorded a strikeout to end the threat and then set down the Rams 1-2-3 in the seventh.
Askland settled down after walking in two runs in the second inning, allowing three hits the rest of the way. She finished with three strikeouts and four walks.
“Taylor’s got a thick skin,” Palo Verde coach Kelly Glass said. “She’s used to pitching through and having some adversity here and there, when we’re making errors or there’s a really good hitting team up. But she does a really good job of taking a deep breath, bearing down and going right back to work.”
Yvette Sanchez was 2-for-3 with a double, and Lili Gutierrez was 2-for-2 with a run for the Rams, who meet Sunrise League rival Coronado (31-6) in an elimination game at 11:30 a.m. Friday.
Lauryn Barker was 1-for-2 with a sacrifice fly in the first inning for Palo Verde.
■ Reed 2, Coronado 0 — Coronado coach Melissa Krueger knew her team would be hard hard-pressed to score against Reed pitcher Julia Jensen.
The Cougars had two chances against the UNR signee and couldn’t come through either time. Jensen spun a three-hitter with 12 strikeouts to lead the Northern Region champion Raiders to the opening-round victory.
“You’ve got to take the opportunities when they’re given to you when you play a quality team and you’re in the state championship,” Krueger said. “Every game is going to be close, every team is good. It just comes down to making the plays and getting the timely hits when you need them.”
The Cougars had runners on second and third in the top of the first inning after a one-out single by Erica Hardy followed by a double from Tatum Spangler. But Jensen retired the next two batters to escape the threat unharmed.
Hardy led off the sixth with a single to right and went to third on the play on a fielding error. Jensen then struck out three of the next four batters to end the inning.
“We haven’t seen somebody with a backdoor curve like that in a long time, so that kind of kept us off balance, that inside pitch,” Krueger said. “She was able to shut us down when she needed to.”
Jensen had a run-scoring single in the first, and Aliya Lange hit a sacrifice fly in the fourth to account for the Raiders’ runs.
Allie Hughes was 2-for-3 with a double for Reed.
Contact David Schoen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.