Calm, cool Cougars snag D-I softball crown

Clovis celebrates after its come-from-behind 2-1 win over TRAC rival Central to win the Central Section D-1 Championship. The Cougars ended the year 25-6 and settled the score after sharing a TRAC title with Central at 8-2. (Photo by Christian Ortuno/Clovis Roundup)

Facing a 1-0 deficit in the sixth inning of the CIF Central Section Division I Championship game against Central, the Clovis High School softball team refused to panic.

That’s because the Cougars are no stranger to pressure.

Only a couple of weeks ago, the Cougars saw tense moments in the quarterfinals, where they squeaked out a 4-3 win against Bullard.

Then came the semifinal, where the No. 4-ranked Cougars stunned No. 1-ranked Stockdale 4-2.

The Cougars latest display of poise helped them come from behind to capture the CIF Central Section Division I Championship, beating arch nemesis Central 2-1 at Fresno State’s Margie Wright Diamond on May 27.

“Our girls know how to handle pressure. They are what we call ‘being comfortable with being uncomfortable,’” Clovis head coach Mike Noel said. “We get after it in practice. It’s very competitive. There is not a lot of ‘That’s OK dear’ when things aren’t going good.”

The Grizzlies opened the scoring in the second inning when senior first baseman Kylie Ota scored the first run. Central’s senior pitcher Gianna Mancha, who is headed to Boise State, maintained a no-hitter through five innings.

From that point on, however, the Grizzlies didn’t have much to show. Instead, it was the Clovis crowd which erupted in the sixth inning as sophomore Grace Henson tied the game with an RBI single.

Clovis’ Michelle Hernandez scores the go-ahead run in the top of the seventh inning lifting the Cougars, the No. 4 seed over the No. 2 seed Central Grizzlies. (Photo by Christian Ortuno/Clovis Roundup)

Junior Ashley Kincaid then brought the Clovis faithful to their feet again in the seventh inning when she knocked in the go-ahead run.

As the Cougars looked for one last defensive stance in the bottom of the seventh, the game rested in the hands of junior pitcher Danielle Lung, who has been in these big situations many times before. Even when Central put two runners on base in the final inning, the junior didn’t show nerves. Instead, she went on to record her eleventh strikeout of the game, which sealed the title for the Cougars.

“We all love each other so much. It’s a great feeling,” Lung said. “We stayed focused, got the job done. When I got to hug my catcher at the end, that was the best feeling.”

Central and Clovis finished the Tri-River Athletic Conference season with a record of 8-2. But the Grizzlies had beaten the Cougars twice this season.

Clinching the title against Central made the unforgettable night that much sweeter for the Cougars.

Danielle Lung threw a complete game with 11 strikeouts to beat Central and star pitcher Gianna Mancha. (Photo by Christian Ortuno/Clovis Roundup)

“Since the beginning of the season Central has always been our biggest competition,” Lung said. “Coming back and beating them is just a great feeling.”

With Lung and Mancha starting in the circle, it figured to be a defensive battle from the beginning.

“I knew it was going to be a low-scoring game,” Noel said. “Those are two great pitchers that dominated for four years. We are really happy ours is coming back for one more.”

This is the Cougars’ first title since 2015 when they beat Central in the championship game. Last season, the Cougars lost 2-0 against Buchanan in the championship game.

“The fight they showed throughout the year, the love they have for each other, this is what they do all those great things for,” Noel said. “We knew we would be in a dog fight. We came here to win any way we can.”