With two games left in the regular season, the Central Valley softball team faced a crossroad: Win and grab a share of the GSL title or lose and do no better than second.
On the back of a four-run seventh inning, the Bears did the former, topping University 6-4 on Thursday evening. There is now a logjam atop the GSL standings, as University, Central Valley and North Central all sit at 14-3.
Thursday's win guarantees the Bears the No. 1 seed in the 4A district playoffs and a victory over winless Rogers on Friday gives Central Valley at least a share of the league championship.
"I had a hard time, to be honest, talking to my kids because it will be my first GSL title," Central Valley head coach Joe Stanton said. "And I'm not trying to jinx it. It's pretty emotional for me right now. I've been coaching for quite a few years. I couldn't ask for a better group of kids to do this with. These kids are great and they got a lot of heart."
"It feels amazing," said Bears pitcher Carli Riordan. "It's like one of those feelings like there's a huge weight lifted off your shoulder. It feels like it gives us more confidence to go into tomorrow and to go into districts and to eventually go into state. It feels amazing."
Early in the game, it looked like University was going to take a giant step toward a solo GSL title as pitcher Brittany Hecker helped her own cause with a two-run home run to give the Titans a 2-0 lead.
But Central Valley chipped into the lead with a two-out run in the third, and then another in the fourth.
Meanwhile, Riordan went to work on the University lineup. The junior retired 10 straight after the home run and finished with five 1-2-3 innings.
"That's a big thing for Carli this year," Stanton said. "She's really matured a lot in that way – in that, she lets it go. ‘OK, it's time to move on to the next batter. We'll get it back. It's not the end of the world, it's a couple runs.'"
Hecker was in complete control as well, though, and the game progressed to the seventh in a 2-2 tie.
In the seventh, Central Valley was finally able to string hits together against Hecker. Two free passes put runners on first and second with one out and Carissa Sdao came through with a run-scoring double. Riordan followed with an RBI single.
Then, with two outs and the bases loaded, Bailey Bergdahl earned an RBI walk and Natalie Ford followed with a single to score two runs. After the damage was all accounted for, Central Valley took a 6-2 lead to the bottom of the seventh.
University put together a comeback, but couldn't plate more than two runs in the final frame off of Riordan.
"It's huge," said Stanton of the confidence the win gives the Bears. "It's not a matter of if you're playing well, it's when. We're playing well right now. It will carry over into next week. We should face Mead, who we beat up pretty good last week. It speaks volumes for where we're at right now. To get through districts and go into regionals as a number one seed is our goal."