SALINAS — Watsonville High freshman Rylee Gomez has had her shares of ups and downs this season.
But the first-year starter came through when it mattered most with a walk-off base hit in a 5-4 win on Wednesday against No. 5 San Benito High in the Central Coast Section Division I semifinals.
“I was just coming up there hoping to get a base hit to score the run,” said Gomez, who had gone hitless prior to the game-winner.
The No. 1 seeded Wildcatz return to the CCS title game for the first time since 2017 when they defeated Homestead in the D-I finals.
As for Gomez, who went 1-for-4 with an RBI, it’ll be her first trip to the championship game.
“I’m really excited for it and happy if we pull through,” she said.
Watsonville coach Scott Wilson was also happy with the result, but said he was disappointed with the way the team didn’t jump on scoring opportunities, especially when the batters struck out looking on an 0-2 count.
“We seen too many called strike threes go by and that drives me nuts,” he said. “We practice it and actually have a round of hitting that’s strictly to two-strike hitting.”
Watsonville senior pitcher Jessica Rodriguez also had somewhat of a rough start to the game, as she surrendered a three-run home run to San Benito senior Dominique Monteon in the top of the first.
“You got good days and you got bad days,” Rodriguez said. “The minute I let it go I was like ‘Dang it, it’s down the middle’ and she hit it over.”
Rodriguez said her mechanics were a bit off in the beginning, but was able to settle down by not allowing another run for the next three innings.
“And my defense was backing me up really well,” she said. “All I needed to do was my job.”
Rodriguez finished with four strikeouts and allowed four earned runs off nine hits in the complete game victory.
Wilson said he holds Rodriguez to a very high standard because he knows she’s capable of getting the job done.
“Sometimes there’s more said when there’s nothing said,” he said. “(Rodriguez) knows what I expect and that’s where we are with it.”
Watsonville sophomore Anastacia Alba rounds the bases after she hit a home run in the first inning. (Juan Reyes — Register-Pajaronian)
Watsonville sophomore Anastacia Alba tied the game in her first at-bat with a three-run blast of her own in the bottom of the first that made it 3-all.
“I’ve really been preparing for batting because all season I’ve been struggling a bit compared to my freshman year,” she said.
Alba mentioned she went into the batting cage Tuesday night to practice off the tee and said the practice paid off.
“Every day I feel like I’m doing something,” said Alba about honing her batting skills.
Alba, who went 2-for-2 with four RBIs and a run scored, drew a walk in the third inning that gave the Wildcatz a 4-3 lead. She also made a key defensive play in the sixth when she tagged out a Haybalers’ base runner trying to reach second base.
“I thought she was going to beat that throw,” Alba said.
But San Benito did tie the game at 4-4 after Rodriguez gave up another home run in the top of the fifth inning, which was nearly negated by a great defensive effort.
Gomez ran down the fly ball all the way to the fence in left field but the ball fell out of her glove as she tumbled over the barrier.
“I caught it and then when I came down I just dropped it,” Gomez said.
However, Gomez shrugged off the mistake and got her redemption in the bottom of the seventh.
With runners on first and second base, Gomez smacked the ball into left centerfield, which allowed senior Juliana Wilson to score the game-winning run.
“It was there so I swung and got good contact,” Gomez said.
Coach Wilson said he was close to substituting a batter for Gomez. He’s glad he didn’t.
“Sometimes (Gomez) gets a little bit anxious around the outside of the ball and hits a ground ball,” Wilson said.
But Gomez found the left-center gap and it was good enough to bring Juliana Wilson home for the win.
Rodriguez, who was a sophomore the last time the Wildcatz were in the CCS finals, said it means a lot to make one last trip.
“I don’t think the underclassmen understand how much it means to me,” Rodriguez said. “I’m just so thankful that I get to go there one more time, win or lose.”
Scott Wilson said it’s a special thing for Watsonville to get into the CCS finals but wants the team to still focus on the task ahead of them, which is a championship game against the winner of Thursday’s semifinal matchup between Aragon and San Mateo.
“I need them to stay relaxed and I need them to just go out and play their game,” he said.
The CCS finals are on Saturday at PAL Stadium in San Jose with a time yet to be determined.
Editor's Note: This article will be published in the May 24 edition of the Register-Pajaronian.