Liberty softball coach James Portese knows the importance of scoring early against Rancho right-hander Sam Pochop. It’s why he called for his cleanup hitter to attempt a squeeze bunt against the standout ace with one out in the third inning Tuesday afternoon.
Key word: attempt.
Pochop, doing her best impersonation of Derek Jeter in the 2001 American League Division Series against the Oakland Athletics, fielded what should have been a surprise bunt and flipped it to catcher Yvette Sanchez for a force out to preserve a scoreless game. It was the first of many heads-up plays the Tulsa commit made to help the Rams earn a 6-3 road win over Liberty in a rematch of last season’s Sunrise Region final.
Pochop struck out six in a complete game and had two extra-base hits at the plate, and Lorena De La Torre made a diving catch down the left-field line for the final out as Rancho (12-7, 7-2 Sunrise League) held off a seventh-inning charge by the Patriots.
“I think this will be good for us to keep rolling into the second round of conference,” Pochop said.
Liberty (9-2, 8-2) scored all of its runs in the bottom of the seventh, and had the bases loaded when second baseman Jasmine Gonzalez hit what could have been a bases-clearing double to tie the game. De La Torre had other plans, however, and eventually chased down the fly ball to secure the win.
“I’m just so proud of them,” said Rancho coach Amanda Zunno, whose team eliminated Liberty in last season’s region playoffs. “They’ve been working hard. I know everyone is out to get us because of the last couple of years and our success. It comes with a price, but my girls work really hard.”
Pochop had five assists and one putout from the circle and also went 2-for-2 with a double, a triple and two runs. She led off the fourth inning with a triple down the right-field line and scored the game’s first run on a sacrifice fly by Sanchez.
In the sixth inning, Katerina Anthony hit a two-run single to center field on a 3-and-2 count, and MacKenzie Perry had a two-run double with two outs as the Rams grabbed a 5-0 lead.
“It definitely gets a lot easier pitching (with a lead),” Pochop said. “It takes a little bit of the pressure off. You can get a couple of runners on — like you can relax a little bit more. It’s a deep breath for you.”
Pochop added an RBI double off the right-field wall in the seventh for one more insurance run.
“In order to beat Sam, you’ve got to hit her early,” Portese said. “If you get behind in a game like we did — six runs — it’s going to be tough to come back in the fifth, sixth, seventh inning. With this team, they’re capable of scoring six or seven runs in an inning. They’ve done it before, but when you have a Division I kid like Sam, you’ve got to get runs early.”
Marisa Olmos went 2-for-3 with two doubles to lead Liberty, which stranded 10 runners, including seven that were in scoring position.
Jessica Meza tripled, and Ashleigh Rodriguez and Kylie Hefley each had two hits for the Patriots.