HEMET ---- The softball teams from Hemet High and Nipomo couldn't have been more evenly matched entering Thursday's CIF Southern Section Division V quarterfinal.
To no one's surprise, the fact that Nipomo made one more play than Hemet made all the difference in the world.
The Bulldogs' rousing playoff run came to an end on a pleasant afternoon at Hemet High School as Nipomo scored an unearned run in the sixth inning and then held on for a 1-0 victory that advanced the Titans to Tuesday's semifinals.
Junior Courtney Cuzick, also Nipomo's ace starting pitcher, scored what proved to be the game-winning run with two outs on an error.
"We had errors and didn't overcome them," Bulldogs coach Jeff Galloway said. "In games like this, you can't make errors and not overcome (them)."
Nor could the Bulldogs (19-9) get anything going offensively despite hitting the ball hard ... and right into outs.
Cuzick got the better of Hemet ace Cheyenne Gandara thanks to an outfield that made a handful of plays on the run. None were bigger than in the bottom of the seventh inning, when the Bulldogs nearly extended the game and could have easily put away the Titans (19-9).
Trailing 1-0, senior Autumn Davis legged out an infield single after Gandara just missed homering over the right-field fence and into a harmless flyball out. Davis moved to second when Nipomo third baseman Ashley Ruiz bobbled and dropped a slow-moving popup.
Up came senior Yvonne Sanchez, who lifted a flyball to deep left field for the season-ending out.
"You've got to understand the game doesn't always go our way," said Gandara, who also had a flyball she thought was a home run die in left field in the first inning. "It happens."
In the circle, Gandara and Cuzick engaged in a classic softball pitching dual. But the Bulldogs blinked in the sixth.
After Hemet catcher Kendal Powell turned a double play to first base on a popup in front of home, Cuzick walked with two outs. She then stole second base on a bobbled throwdown. Nipomo's Saundra Renner followed with a grounder to second, but Bulldogs second baseman Yuribia Perez first bobbled, then threw late to first base as Cuzick raced around from second to score the game's only run.
It was a busy day for the Nipomo right-hander. She was game's only multiple-hit batter (2-for-2), she scored the lone run, and she got the win in the circle after striking out seven, walking none and holding the Bulldogs to three hits despite eight fly-ball outs.
"We have an outstanding, strong outfield," said Nipomo coach Matt Paradis, whose team hails from just north of Santa Maria ---- the Titans left their school before 7 a.m. Thursday. "The girls out there know they can play behind Courtney. For our outfielders to cover their ground and snag anything is very important."
Galloway, whose team finished a strong second in the Mountain Pass League behind Beaumont, vowed that his club will return, especially as six of his nine hitters Thursday were underclassmen.
"We're proud of them," he said. "We haven't been here since '05, and you know what? We get them all back."