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Palo Verde freshman delivers clutch hit

Rachel Williams hasn’t been in many big games in her high school softball career.

But the Palo Verde freshman outfielder knew what do with the game and potentially the Northwest League title on the line Wednesday.

Williams ripped the first pitch she saw in the bottom of the eighth inning into right-center field to plate classmate Melissa Lacro with the winning run as the Panthers rallied to nip visiting Centennial, 2-1.

“I was just thinking it was going to be a strike and I was going to hit it,” Williams said. “I love pressure situations. They’re my favorite. It feels amazing.”

Palo Verde (24-8, 13-2 Northwest) needs a win at Arbor View on Friday to tie Centennial (19-10, 14-2) for first in the league. The Panthers swept the regular-season series from the Bulldogs and would be the league’s No. 1 seed for next week’s Sunset Region tournament.

The eighth started harmlessly as Melissa McCormick lined out to right field.

Lacro hit a routine grounder to third, but the throw to first was wild, and Lacro, who ran hard from the start, scampered all the way to third.

Williams, who entered the game hitting .340 with 23 RBIs, picked on Taylor Huntly’s next pitch and found the gap in right-center.

“They play a lot in the summer and in the fall and against really good teams,” Palo Verde coach Kelly Glass said of the two freshmen. “They want to be the hero.”

It was a bitter ending for the Bulldogs, who led 1-0 on Alyssa Finger’s RBI double in the first inning.

The Panthers tied the game in the sixth on a bad throw back to the circle.

McCormick led off the inning with a single to center and moved to second on Lacro’s sacrifice bunt and to third on Williams’ groundout.

After a 1-2 pitch to Danielle Hearn, the return throw to Huntly went into center field, allowing McCormick to score. Hearn struck out on the next pitch.

But Centennial had chances to widen its lead.

The Bulldogs had a runner cut down at the plate on Finger’s RBI double in the first. Janiel Arroyo also tried to score from first on the play, but Palo Verde shortstop Angel Council made a perfect relay to the plate.

“We were definitely on,” Williams said. “If our defense is up and our hitting is there, we will win games.”

Centennial also had runners at second and third with one out in the sixth, but McCormick got two first-pitch popouts to end the threat.

“That’s good softball,” Glass said. “I wish it could be like that every time.”

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