Friday, November 27, 2015 • 12:19

Lady Jags beat Imperial but fall to top seed Francis Parker in softball playoffs - VC still alive in consolation bracket of double-elimination tournament

The Lady Jags couldn’t stop Francis Parker on thier home turf.
May 22, 2013
Home-field advantage means more to some teams than it does to others.

Visiting teams that have to play at Fenway Park, Madison Square Garden or Lambeau Field know all too well how a stadium's unique characteristics can affect the outcome of a game.

Valley Center's varsity softball team experienced this phenomenon in the CIF Division IV playoffs this week, playing on an unusual field at No. 1 seed Francis Parker that played a part in bouncing the Lady Jaguars into the consolation bracket of the double-elimination tournament.

The No. 4 seed Lady Jags began the week with a home game against Imperial last Thursday, and behind stellar pitching and clutch hitting, they took a 4–1 win to advance to the quarterfinals.

Emma Sloman pitched a complete game and gave up only three hits, and the lone run that crossed the plate was unearned.

On offense, the Lady Jaguars scored three of their four runs in the third inning, as Jasmine Contreras, Sloman and Hana Gilbert all scored, the latter two coming in to score on an RBI ground-rule double by Kiana Diefenbach, who scored the lone run in the sixth inning on an RBI base hit by Brie Dunckel.

"They're a quality team that played some good teams to get here," Valley Center head coach Bill Dunckel said of Imperial. "So for us to beat them by three and to scatter three hits, that's huge. It was a test of Emma's focus, but you could tell she was in a zone today. She knew her strike zone and she capitalized. And those timely hits—Kiana with the double, Hana with the RBI and Brie with that base hit to get the run back—we needed everybody to step up, and they did."

The win propelled the Lady Jags into a quarterfinal clash with the top-seeded Lady Lancers on Francis Parker's home turf, and Valley Center suffered a 4–0 loss that moves the team into the consolation bracket.

In this case, the field happened to actually consist of turf—the kind with fake blades of grass and tiny little pellets of rubber—in a stadium that also included a very short porch in right field, a temporary net hanging across the outfield from left to center and a waist-high, temporary plastic fence in the left-field corner. These unique characteristics made defense a little bit tricky for a softball team used to playing on dirt and grass.

Even Sloman, the Valley Center starting pitcher, had to adjust her routine to play on the artificial surface.

"It doesn't really feel any different when I'm pitching," she said before the game. "But I always rub dirt on my hands, so when I got here, I had to go find a patch of dirt and put some in my pocket for when I'm out there pitching."

The slight adjustment didn't seem to affect Sloman, who pitched well against an outstanding team.

But the Lady Lancers did inflict some scoring damage on the Lady Jags with an assist from the beige-colored infield turf.

In the second inning of a scoreless game, Francis Parker's Natalie Contreras beat out a base hit on a ground ball to second base that slipped past the pitcher and dug into the turf on a slow roll to Diefenbach, whose throw to first was not in time.

The next batter, Rebecca Dvorak, dropped down a bunt that hit the turf about four feet in front of home plate and once again died on the cushy surface. Catcher Suki Turner was the first to get to the ball, but her hurried throw went wide of first and rolled along the fence just outside the first base line. Contreras scored and Dvorak made it to third on the play.

Then Sarah Reed came up and dropped down another bunt that refused to move through the ever-growing scuffmarks in the turf in front of the plate. Both Sloman and Nia Hutton charged the ball and tried to flip it to Turner to get Dvorak at the plate, but the toss was not in time, and the Lady Lancers had a two-run lead.

The Lady Lancers also got an infield hit on a grounder to shortstop in the first inning that looked like a routine play but slowed way down before it got to Gilbert. The right field fence also came into play on a high fly ball into the gap in the fourth inning. The ball caromed awkwardly off the angled fence and rolled away from centerfielder Anndrea Torres, who recovered nicely and kept the runner at second base.

Francis Parker got two more infield hits in the game, including the first hit of a four-hit rally in the fifth inning that plated two more runs and put the game away.

Aside from the odd field, the game began with a less-than-cordial feel because of some curious decisions by the umpiring crew.

With a full five minutes left before the game's scheduled start time of 10 a.m., the Lady Lancers huddled, called out a team cheer and took the field for the start of the game. Coach Dunckel pointed out to the home plate umpire that his team still had five minutes of preparation, including a time for his top three hitters to loosen up by swinging a bat. The umpire seemed to take offense at Coach Dunckel's remark, and after a few minutes of conversation between the two, Coach Dunckel sent his leadoff hitter out to start the game with at least three minutes left before the top of the hour.

And after the game, Coach Dunckel seemed more baffled than anything when he spoke about the early start time and his ongoing conversation with the home plate umpire about the seemingly inconsistent strike zone.

"I'm not usually one to bark about the umpires, but he was calling strikes eight inches off the inside of the plate," he said. "That put our hitters on the defensive early, and we couldn't snap out of it. But our defense just wasn't there, and the different surface could have played a part in that. We sat back on a few routiners and we didn't make our adjustments soon enough."

The Lady Jaguars are now in the consolation bracket and have already played on Tuesday. If they have won on Tuesday, they play again Thursday at 12:30 p.m. at the Poway Sports Complex.

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