FREMONT — By now, almost every opposing team knows about Watsonville High’s dynamic pitcher-catcher duo of sophomores Jessica Rodriguez and Juliana Wilson. But through their first two Central Coast Section playoff games, the Wildcatz are proving that they are more than just a two-person show.
With airtight defense and short but powerful bursts of offense, No. 4 Watsonville held off No. 5 Los Gatos High, 3-1, on Saturday at Fremont High to advance to the CCS Division I semifinals for the first time since 2007.
There wasn’t much of a celebration on the field after Rodriguez retired the final batter to put an end to the drought and finish up her six-hit, eight-strikeout day.
The Wildcatz (22-4) jumped around a little, dished out some high fives and let out one or two “woos.”
The No. 6 ranked team in the CCS, according to MaxPreps, was not ready to dump the Gatorade cooler on head coach Scott Wilson just yet.
“This felt amazing. To win and advance, I can’t really describe it,” said Watsonville junior shortstop Savanah Quintana. “But there’s still more softball to be played. Obviously the next round is going to be harder.”
The Wildcatz will travel to PAL Stadium in San Jose on Thursday at 7 p.m. to play top-seeded Pioneer, a two-time CCS champion and six-time runner-up that has advanced to the Division II title game each of the last three years.
Watsonville has not advanced past the semifinal round since 2006, when the Wildcatz finished runner-up to San Benito High for the Division I Championship.
The celebrations were nowhere to be found but the confidence level was apparent, especially after Wednesday’s first-round victory over Santa Clara High — Watsonville’s first playoff win since 2007.
“We’re playing really well but we can definitely score a lot more,” said Rodriguez, who is verbally committed to UNLV. “But our girls came in clutch (today). They come in clutch at the right moments.”
No one was more clutch than Quintana, who made a pair of diving stops on defense to keep Los Gatos (20-8) at bay and also drove in a pair of runs with the bat.
Her RBI double in the first inning gave Watsonville the lead and Wilson, verbally committed to the University of Central Florida, matched her teammate with an RBI double of her own two batters later to make it 2-0 early.
Los Gatos plated a run on senior first baseman Jocelyn Potmesil’s RBI single but Rodriguez and the Watsonville defense, which allowed only 1.36 runs per game entering Saturday, put the clamps on soon after.
“My defense has been on for a really long time so I’ve been trusting them,” Rodriguez said. “I know if I miss a pitch they have my back.”
Her offense, meanwhile, tallied seven hits on Los Gatos senior pitcher Sarah Storton and had at least one runner in scoring position in four different innings.
The Wildcatz had the bases loaded with one out in the second inning but Storton got out of the jam to keep her team in the game.
After shutting out Watsonville in last year’s 1-0 non-league win, Storton, who said she is playing for George Fox University next season, once again proved to be a thorn in the Wildcatz’ side.
So Watsonville resorted to small ball to get its third run of the day. Quintana laid down a sacrifice bunt in the fourth inning to score senior outfielder Nicole Wilson.
Storton was also 2-for-3 at the plate and put some pressure on the Wildcatz in the seventh inning with a two-out double. But Rodriguez quickly shut down any possibility of a comeback by retiring the next batter.
“[Storton] took enough off of it to get us off the sweet spot of the bat,” coach Wilson said. “Hats off to her for her effort. We went small ball and we got some clutch hitting. It was really a combination of both.”
Watsonville finished second in the Monterey Bay League Gabilan division behind San Benito, the top-ranked team in the CCS and the No. 2 seed in the prestigious Open Division bracket, after going through a tough stretch in which they lost three of four games.
For Watsonville, that stretch seems like centuries ago after their last two wins.
“I’m pretty confident in us,” Rodriguez said. “I’m excited to play and compete again.”