STOCKTON -- With the potential winning run on second base and two out in the top of the ninth inning Tuesday, Juliana Santos approached the plate with a sense of dread.
"I had two great at-bats early in the game, but they pitched around me after that. I was expecting that again," Orestimba High's senior shortstop said. "I told my coach that, but I also said I'd be ready if I saw a strike,"
Santos was true to her word, reaching out to drive a borderline strike into center field, driving in the go-ahead run as the defending champion Warriors beat Linden 3-1 to move on to Friday's winners' bracket final of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs.
Orestimba (25-3) will face a familiar foe in Hilmar (19-5). The Western Athletic Conference rivals each went 2-0 at Arnaiz Stadium.
The Warriors, surprisingly, had the more difficult time reaching Friday's showdown.
Linden didn't get a hit off ace Kara Spinelli until the seventh, but the Lions had taken a 1-0 lead in the fourth on an error.
It could have been worse, as Megan Davey's liner landed just foul -- a ball that would have scored one, possibly two runs. Spinelli ended it by striking out Davey.
Lacey Kohl's RBI groundout in the fifth tied it, and the game stayed that way until the ninth.
That's when Santos, with a runner on second, ripped the second pitch she saw over second for a single. She went to second on a wild pitch and to third on Kohl's infield single, then scored on another wild pitch.
"They had pitched me outside, so I stayed right on top of the plate," said Santos, who resisted the urge to try and pull the pitch. "I went up there knowing if they gave me anything close to the plate, I was getting a hit."
Spinelli worked out of a jam in the bottom of the ninth -- second and third with no out.
"I don't get many strikeouts, so maybe people don't fear me as much," said Spinelli, who struck out 11. "That's OK, because my defense enjoys getting to play. It's not just another boring game that's all strikeouts."