A two-run lead was nice to have, but not comfortable enough for Katie Hooper and her teammates on the Burbank High softball team.
Hooper made sure her team was comfortable in the final inning of Thursday's CIF Southern Section Division III first-round playoff game against El Rancho.
The senior blasted a three-home home run over the left-field fence in the bottom of the sixth inning and sophomore pitcher Caitlyn Brooks shut down the Dons in the seventh inning with her 13th, 14th and 15th strikeouts, giving the Bulldogs a 7-2 victory at McCambridge Park.
"We needed it badly," Hooper said. "We needed more insurance runs. Two runs are nothing. The home run was key. I was thinking base hit and that beach ball was down the middle."
Burbank (25-2), which won the Pacific League title, will play Freeway League champion Sunny Hills or Carter in Tuesday's second round.
El Rancho, which needed a 1-0 victory against Pioneer Valley in Tuesday's wild-card round just to advance, made the Bulldogs work harder than they might have expected.
Burbank scored four runs in the first inning, with Hooper driving Brooks home with a triple to left and later coming home on Lily Winn's single. Winn scored on Kaitlin Brooks' single, with Brooks scoring the final run of the inning on an error.
With Caitlyn Brooks in the circle, the Bulldogs seemed poised to add runs heading into the second inning, as one Burbank fan asked another if the 10-run mercy rule was used in the playoffs. The playoffs don't institute a 10-run mercy rule, unless both coaches agree to it prior to the game.
But the Bulldogs' offense stalled, as it had one hit in the second and didn't have another hit until the fifth inning.
El Rancho (12-12) registered its first hit with Anissa Sanchez's double to right field, which plated Bri Ramos, who had walked on six pitches, one of two walks Brooks issued. The Dons left a runner on second in the inning and stranded another runner in the same spot in the top of the fifth.
After retiring the first two batters of the sixth inning, Brooks allowed consecutive hits, first a triple to Aiyana Leal-Robles and then a run-scoring single to Janessa Lozano. Lozano was also left at second after Brooks struck out her 12th batter of the game, giving her 300 on the season.
"Caitlyn was a rock today," Burbank Coach Nicole Drabecki said. "She performed when we needed her to. She had runners on. She shut them down when she needed. The sky is the limit to her talents. She's only a 16-year-old girl. The 15 strikeouts and the 300 strikeouts on the year show how talented she is and shows her work ethic.
"I'm proud of our team."
Drabecki was happy with Hooper's home run, as well, which capped a two-for-four performance for the standout righty. Winn was three for four, and Laina Do also scored a run on her teammate's home run.
Caitlyn Brooks had two runs scored, in addition to her performance in the circle.
"I tried improving every single pitch," said Brooks, who has 303 strikeouts this season. "Every single pitch I would adjust to the blue's strike zone. His strike zone was tight today, a bit inconsistent. But it makes you better.
"We tried to not expect anything. We tried to do our own thing. They came out pretty tough, and it made us work harder."