RENO — Rancho’s softball team hasn’t had much practice facing pitchers like Julia Jensen.
The Reed junior and reigning state player of the year throws a fastball that touches 65 mph and can be dominant when she’s on her game.
She was that and more Thursday.
Jensen struck out 15, including 12 of the final 16 hitters, and led the Raiders to a 2-0 win over Rancho in a Division I state tournament opening-round game at UNR’s Hixson Park.
“We were looking for the perfect pitch instead of just swinging the bat,” Rancho coach Amanda Zunno said.
Rancho (28-8) will face Shadow Ridge (30-6) in an elimination game at 12:30 p.m. Friday. Reed (32-3-1) meets Spanish Springs (26-14) in the winners’ bracket final at 2:45 p.m.
Jensen entered the game having struck out 288 in 162 2/3 innings. She didn’t allow a run in the Raiders’ four Northern Region tournament games, though Rancho nearly snapped her scoreless streak in the second inning.
Sam Pochop led off the second with a double, and courtesy runner Jazmin Gonzalez moved to third on a passed ball.
Tiare Lee’s squeeze bunt was fielded cleanly, and the Raiders trapped Gonzalez in a rundown. Lee went all the way to third before Gonzalez was tagged out.
The Rams tried again on a suicide squeeze, but Kayla Coles bunted through the pitch, and Lee was tagged out in another rundown to end the threat.
Kat Anthony led off the bottom of the third with a double, but never moved as Jensen found her groove. Rancho managed just four hits.
“Those were really big,” Zunno said of coming away with no runs in the two innings. “The girls who got on did their job, but the other girls didn’t do their job. They were trying to do too much when we just needed hit after hit.”
Jensen doubled to lead off the fourth, and courtesy runner Gabby Kahl scored on Mackenzie Howren’s two-out double to give Reed the only run it needed.
Alexis Gonzales’ home run on the first pitch of the seventh inning sealed Rancho’s fate.
Pochop did her best to keep the Rams in the game, allowing just three hits and two walks and striking out seven.
“She stayed calm, cool and collected the whole time,” Zunno said. “She dominated and hit her spots when she needed to.”
The Rancho-Shadow Ridge winner must beat the loser of the Reed-Spanish Springs game at 5 p.m. Friday and then win twice Saturday to secure the state title.
“We have to leave today today,” Zunno said. “These girls have the talent. They just need to let go of everything else and have fun and play Rancho softball.”
Spanish Springs 4, Shadow Ridge 3 — Shadow Ridge’s offense got a late start Thursday.
The Mustangs didn’t hit the ball out of the infield until the sixth inning, and, despite an impressive late rally, came up short.
Spanish Springs built leads of 3-0 in the sixth inning and 4-1 in the seventh before holding on to nip the Mustangs in the first opening-round game.
“It just took way too long (to get going),” Shadow Ridge coach Julia Meyn said. “I don’t know why. I’ll be thinking about that all night.”
Of the first eight Mustang batters, five popped out and two struck out. Alisha Schultz’s infield hit to shortstop was the only bright spot for Shadow Ridge until the fourth inning, when the Mustangs loaded the bases on two walks and an error.
But Cougars pitcher Hayley Fein pitched out of trouble in the fourth and didn’t allow a run after Shadow Ridge put its leadoff batter on third with no outs in the fifth.
“I think our younger ones were just too nervous, and that’s on me,” Meyn said. “I needed to calm them down.”
The Mustangs finally broke through in the sixth, loading the bases on three singles and getting a two-out walk to Sophia Meza to force in a run.
Spanish Springs third baseman Aubrey Parks snared a line drive to end the inning.
The Cougars got the run back on a throwing error in the seventh before the Mustangs rallied.
Kate Dennis’ bases-loaded single with no outs cut the gap to 4-2, and Samaiya Montgomery’s one-out grounder to third was misplayed to allow Schultz to score. But Alyssa Tolentino hit into a 3-2-4 double play to end the game.
Shadow Ridge pitcher Mia Voges allowed 11 hits, but struck out five and limited the damage against her.
“Mia did a great job,” Meyn said. “She gave us everything we asked for. It was up to our bats, and we didn’t bring our bats today.”
Contact reporter Bartt Davis at email@example.com or 702-387-5230.