The Orcutt Academy girls softball team made it to the CIF Central Section Division 6 semifinals last year, losing to eventual champion Nipomo.
This year, Orcutt junior catcher Velen Velazquez thinks the Spartans can win the whole thing.
"Oh yes, I definitely think we can do it," Velazquez, who was on that 2022 Orcutt Academy team said after No. 3 Orcutt Academy beat No. 6 Tollhouse Sierra 9-3 at Lakeview Junior High School Thursday in a 2023 Division 6 quarterfinal.
"The players on this team are amazing."
Orcutt Academy will host No. 10 Mendota in a Division 6 semifinal next Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. at Lakeview. The Aztecs (11-17) upset No. 2 Laton 14-1. That game was called after five innings because of the 10-run rule.
The Spartans moved to 10-11. Sierra (10-15) beat Mendota 13-3 and top seed Riverdale 10-1 earlier this season. Riverdale's' quarterfinal result against No. 9 O'Neals Minarets was unavailable at press time.
Orcutt Academy broke open a scoreless game with five runs in the third inning then scored four in the sixth and that was easily enough to carry the Spartans through.
Sierra scored an unearned run in the top of the seventh after scoring twice in the sixth but, with the bases loaded, Orcutt Academy freshman right-hander Lylah Garcia struck out her pitching opponent, KK Mikesell, swinging to end the game.
Mikesell struck out on a high pitch, and the Chieftains helped Garcia out by swinging at a lot of those Thursday. The Spartans swung at a lot of high Mikesell offerings themselves but got through.
"We've hit better than we did this game," said Velazquez, a leading hitter for the Spartans this season who had two hits and an RBI Thursday. "We're definitely going to work on that."
Velazquez said "(Mikesell) was a slower pitcher than we're used to, and that threw us off."
Orcutt did garner 12 hits Thursday. First baseman Khaelii Robertson, the second-leading scorer for an Orcutt Academy basketball team that made it to the divisional semifinals, had three hits and four RBIs Thursday.
Several balls the Spartans hit landed just in front of Chieftains outfielders, and that's what happened for Robertson when she hit a fly ball double in the seventh that drove in the last two Orcutt runs of the game.
Ariana Duncan drove in the first run of the game for the Spartans with a single off diving Sierra shortstop Tylee Mitchell's glove. Valerie Zepeda, who drew a lead-off walk, scored on the play.
Duncan eventually scored on an error, Robertson singled home two runs then Nani De La Cruz singled home Robertson with the last Spartans runs of the inning.
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Zepeda stole home with the first Orcutt run of the sixth. Velazquez singled in a run then Robertson doubled home two more.
Garcia allowed just three hits, singles by Makayla McGrath, Mikesell and Adriana Carrillo. Garcia struck out eight and pitched around six walks and two hit batsman.
Unofficially, the Chieftains made five errors and the Spartans were error-free.
In other Thursday quarterfinals action involving area teams, No. 1 St. Joseph beat No. 9 Bakersfield Highland 10-0 at St. Louis de Montfort in Division 2 for the Knights' 16th straight win, and No. 6 Nipomo lost 3-2 at No. 3 Fresno McLane in Division 4.
St. Joseph will host either No. 4 Madera or No. 12 Selma in a Division 2 semifinal at St. Louis de Montfort next Tuesday at 4:30 p.m.
St. Joseph advances, Nipomo falls
Top-ranked St. Joseph won easily in the CIF Central Section Division 2 playoffs Thursday. Meanwhile, the season is over for 2022 Division 6 champion Nipomo.
St. Joseph (21-4) scored in every inning in a 10-0 win over No. 9 Bakersfield Highland (17-12) at St. Louis de Montfort. In the Division 4 quarters, No. 3 Fresno McLane edged No. 6 Nipomo 3-2.
St. Joseph's Seleny Chavez and Kaycie Gavlak both homered and sophomore ace Taylor Mediano threw the shutout.
Nipomo stats were available.
Highland mustered just one hit against Mediano, a Natalie Macias single.
The game was called after the top of the fifth because of the 10-rule. St. Joseph scored once in the first inning, four times in the second, twice in the third and three times in the fourth.
The Knights won their 16th straight and will face No. 4 Madera next Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. at St. Louis de Montfort in the semifinals. The highest seed is the home team in every playoff game.
Madera (17-7-1) defeated No. 12 Selma 8-1 in the quarterfinals.
McLane moved to 19-6-1. Nipomo, which made it to the state divisional final last season, finished 12-8. The Highlanders will play No. 7 Mission Prep who won 6-1 at No. 2 Reedley Immanuel in another Division 4 quarterfinal.
In another quarterfinal involving a Central Coast Athletic Association (CCAA) team, No. 11 Templeton lost 5-0 at No. 3 Wasco.
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.