Pioneer Valley's Jaylynn Dolores put her bunt in the perfect place.
"Past the pitcher and up the first base line," Dolores said after her squeeze bunt scored Mackenzie Ramirez with the winning run in the top of the fifth inning as the Panthers nipped second-place Nipomo 2-1 at Nipomo on the Titans' Senior Day Friday and clinched at least a tie for the Ocean League championship.
Ramirez led off the fifth with a fly ball triple off Nipomo right-hander Kate Barnett that landed inches inside the right field foul line. One out later, Dolores knocked her bunt past Barnett and near the first base bag. The only play Nipomo first baseman C.J. Arias had was to tag out Dolores, and Ramirez scored easily.
Dolores said bunting has gone pretty well for her this season. "It moves the runners along and helps the team," she said. Dolores put down her bunt of the season to this point Friday.
Pioneer Valley moved to 15-9-1, 11-1 and will clinch the league championship if it wins its regular season finale Friday at San Luis Obispo. Start time for that one is 4:30 p.m.
Nipomo will finish its regular season with road games at Orcutt Academy Wednesday and Santa Ynez Friday. The first pitch for both is slated for 4:30 p.m.
Pioneer Valley sophomore right-hander Ciena Acosta nailed down the win Friday by getting Nipomo designated hitter Vivianne Gross looking for Acosta's 16th strikeout.
Both teams scored an unearned run, Pioneer Valley in the third when Ramirez came home on a passed ball after leading off the inning with a single, Nipomo in the fourth when Barnett scored when Arias drew a bases-loaded walk.
Barnett, who signed with Long Beach State earlier in the season, gave up just five hits, but the Panthers did just on offense to back Acosta, who pitched a masterpiece.
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"The screwball and the curve were the pitches I relied on most," Acosta said afterward.
Nipomo scored against Acosta without hitting the ball out of the infield in the fourth. Barnett hit a line drive that skidded off the glove of Pioneer Valley third baseman Rianna Dulay to lead off the inning , an Alie Camacho sacrifice bunt was thrown away, a Katelynn Petree pop fly landed in front of Pioneer Valley shortstop Kaylee Dolores for a hit then Arias drew the bases-loaded RBI.
Acosta prevented further damage by striking out the side.
Ramirez and Dulay both finished with two hits. Nipomo didn't get a hit after the fourth. Acosta worked out of the sixth and seventh innings after giving up a one-out walk in the sixth and a lead-off walk in the seventh.
Pioneer Valley edged Nipomo 1-0 in the first game between the teams, the league opener for both. Acosta struck out 15 in that one, and was the winning pitcher in that one too.
"Both games against them were difficult," said Acosta. "They have a good pitcher (Barnett), and they play good defense."
The Panthers have made their run in the Ocean League with an impressive 1-2 pitching combination of Acosta and Jazmyn Molina. Molina pitched a perfect game against Orcutt Academy last week.
"I think we can make a good run in the playoffs," said Acosta.
Kenny Cress is a sports reporter for the Santa Maria Times, covering local sports in northern Santa Barbara County. You can send information or story ideas to him by emailing it to KCress@SantaMariaTimes.com.