ACTON — By the time Thursday afternoon's game ended, the Holy Family softball team appeared to be a confident squad familiar with its surroundings and comfortable being in the midst of a CIF Southern Section Division VI first-round playoff game.
Unfortunately for the Gaels, that was hardly the case over the first three innings, which ultimately decided Holy Family's fate in an 11-6 loss to host Vasquez at Acton Park.
"If we started out strong in the beginning, I think we could've beat them," said Holy Family's Ashlee Sandoval, who had the Gaels' first and last hits of the day, going two for four with five runs batted in.
Sandoval hit a grand slam in the fifth inning — a stanza that began with the Gaels (8-7) simply trying to stave off a loss via mercy rule and ended with Holy Family believing it could work its way back into the game.
"The part I really liked was we never lost our character," Gaels Coach Greg Ziomek said. "We came back, we made it respectable."
Alas, it was too little too late against the Mustangs (18-4), who built an insurmountable 10-0 lead thanks to an eight-run third inning that was a backbreaker for the young Gaels.
"They had one good inning and we made a lot of mistakes," Ziomek said. "We were setting the table for them and then they got the hits."
Vasquez starter Emily Gordon was perfect through the first three innings, largely getting the Gaels, who took second in the Horizon League, to swing at bad pitches for strikeouts or easy groundouts.
"I think at the beginning of the game, the butterflies were there," Ziomek said. "It took us a while to calm down."
But the Gaels, in large part, got patient at the plate and also used a fake-bunt approach that seemed to distract Gordon and led to her walking a batter and hitting the next two to load the bases in the fifth. Then, with two outs, she walked Gaby Diaz to push across Sam Deharo to make the score 10-1 and ensure, if nothing more, another inning.
Up stepped Sandoval, who said she had talked to her coach, who told her to adjust her swing by lowering her hands to get the bat around quicker. The change worked, as she smacked a line drive to opposite-field right that bounced past the charging right fielder and rolled past on the park's expansive field. Melanie Leyva, Mary Alvarado and Diaz all came around to score with Sandoval streaking in behind them.
"We kinda figured out this pitcher a little bit," Ziomek said. "We started setting the table."
Sandoval ended the day with a double to center that plated Diaz, who had tripled in the ensuing at-bat.
"At first, you could tell all of us were nervous," Sandoval said. "We were swinging at everything."
Gordon finished the day with a complete game, allowing six runs on just three hits after holding the Gaels without a hit over the first four-plus innings. She walked five and hit three.
Holy Family pitcher Rachel Turner, who had two walks and was hit by a pitch on offense, turned in an outing that was much to the contrary of Gordon, as she struggled at the start, but settled down thereafter.
Vasquez, the Desert Mountain League champion, collected two runs in the first inning, with the second coming on a play in which two errors were made. Then came the devastating third in which Holy Family gave up eight runs on six hits — all singles — two walks, two hit batters and three errors.
After the third, though, Turner allowed one run, one walk and two hits. For the game, she threw six innings, gave up 11 runs — five earned — 10 hits, four walks, hit three batters and struck out five.
Gordon, who entered the game with 63 RBIs, went four for four with two RBIs and a fifth-inning home run on a line drive to right field. Her previous three at-bats all ended with bloop singles that likely should've been caught.
Turner, Sandoval and the rest of the Gaels are set to return next year, with nary a senior on the roster.
"We got a team," Ziomek said. "We got everybody coming back."