Chardae Hoskins, Hannah Boyd and the Escalon High softball team had a hard time finding their rhythm in the pregame huddle.
The Cougars stumbled through a song and danced off beat before taking the field for their Sac-Joaquin Section Division V final against Mariposa on Wednesday.
Between the lines, though, Escalon performed harmoniously, taking apart the Grizzlies with power and, well, more power in a 5-2 victory.
The title is the third in program history for the Cougars (23-4), who won back-to-back crowns in 2008-09. Escalon is 3-for-3 in section finals, and the future looks even more promising. The Cougars graduate just three seniors.
Among those returning for a title defense are Hoskins, a hard-throwing right-handed junior, and Boyd, her batterymate and the team’s leader in home runs as a freshman.
“This was our goal coming into the season,” said Escalon assistant coach Caitlin Brooks, a member of the Cougars’ first two section championship teams. “We had our boxes we wanted to check: Come together as a team; win (the Trans-Valley League); and this was our final goal. This was a really, really good experience. The girls were amazing to work with, so inspiring and passionate about the game.”
Hoskins went the distance, striking out 16 in a four-hit performance. She notched her 10th win of the season, retiring the final 10 batters in succession.
With a unique delivery, Hoskins set the pace early, striking out two in the first inning. She overcame a shaky third. After giving up an RBI single to Violet Matlock that made it 2-2, Hoskins struck out eight of the next 10 batters.
“I had to do it for my team. I had to get back in it,” Hoskins said. “Not make errors with my pitching and focus on my spots.”
Hoskins was helped by an offense that tested the fences at Arnaiz Stadium.
Boyd launched a two-run home run onto Holman Road to highlight a three-run fifth inning, and Haley Boyd accounted for both of the Cougars’ runs in the second. She roped an RBI triple and later scored on a sacrifice bunt to give Escalon a 2-0 lead.
Hannah Boyd’s third home run of the season, a two-run blast beyond the left-center field fence, put the game out of reach.
She drove in Bella Strach, whose double moments earlier plated Hoskins (single) with the go-ahead run.
“I was looking for a strike so I could get a hit,” said Hannah Boyd, pulling a champion’s cap over her ponytails. “I hit the sweet spot and it was gone. It felt good because it gave us the momentum to finish (the game).”
She was mobbed by teammates at home plate.
“It was every good emotion you could feel all at once," she said. "It felt so good rounding the bases and coming home.”
While Escalon posed for pictures with the section banner, Mariposa gathered down the left-field line. For the first time in three years, the Grizzlies’ season ended in defeat.
The Southern League champions were bumped up to D-V after winning the last three D-VI banners.
On Wednesday, Mariposa needed to beat Escalon twice to annex a fourth consecutive title.
“All year we’ve been saying, ‘It’s all about the section championship,’ ” Grizzlies coach Tony Williams said. “I don’t care that we were moving up. They were still focused and we were a couple games from our goal.”
Williams tipped his cap to the Cougars, particularly Hoskins, who put the Grizzlies on edge by pairing her fastball with a drop.
“It wasn’t a sad time. We knew we played our game,” said Williams, clutching the runner-up plaque. “We didn’t lose it. We got beat. I’ll do that every single time. I’ll challenge anybody, and if they beat us, they beat us.”
The Grizzlies struck for both of their runs in the third. Sam Matlock had an RBI double, chasing home leadoff hitter Leah Lafota.
Kiya Smith and Bayle Pearson also singled for Mariposa, which won a program-high 27 games in the MaxPreps era.
“No excuses,” Williams said. “They just hit the ball. There’s nothing you can do. They put up runs … that’s the game.”