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SUNRISE SOFTBALL: Amato shuts down Rancho, Cougars move into title game

The Rancho softball team entered Friday’s Sunrise Region tournament losers’ bracket final with a reputation for having dominant pitching.

Coronado’s Danielle Amato proved that she can shut down an opposing lineup, too.

Amato tossed a three-hitter, and the Cougars blanked Rancho 3-0 at Foothill to avenge a loss earlier in the tournament and advance to the region championship.

Coronado (23-15-1) will face host Foothill (19-13) at noon Saturday and must beat the Falcons twice to claim the title. The winner advances to the Division I state tournament.

Foothill went 2-1 against the Cougars this season and won both Southeast League games.

“I think we had a little bit of a chip on our shoulder after the first Rancho game,” Coronado coach Melissa Krueger said. “We came out with the mentality (to) leave it all on the field today. We’ve got a lot of softball left in us, and I think we proved that today.”

Amato, who gave up six hits in a 3-2 loss to Rancho on Wednesday, needed only 86 pitches to put the clamps on the Rams (29-8-1) this time. She struck out two, didn’t walk a batter and induced six pop-ups among her nine fly-ball outs.

The only trouble Amato ran into came in the first inning. Brandy Marlett blooped a double down the left-field line and the ball got away from Coronado shortstop Jaiden Johnson, who nearly made a spectacular running catch on the play.

Johnson’s wild throw toward the infield allowed Marlett to move to third, but Amato retired McKinzi Vega on a pop-up to second baseman Marissa Kopp to end the inning.

“I got a good rest, and we just had a really good flow going through the whole game,” Amato said. “We were just trying to do all the same things to not let it die down.”

Marlett started in the circle, but unlike Wednesday’s performance when she dominated Coronado for the first innings, Marlett struggled as the Cougars were aggressive early in the count.

“We knew that if we got to them in the first couple innings it would make all the difference in the game,” Krueger said. “We definitely didn’t want to wait until the seventh inning again.”

Johnson reached on an error on the game’s first pitch and scored on Basia Query’s ringing double into the left-field corner. In the third inning, Johnson had a one-out double and scored on a single up the middle by Brooke Younie. Amato then made it 3-0 with a double to deep left, chasing Marlett after 2 1/3 innings.

Samantha Pochop allowed one hit in 4 2/3 innings of relief for Rancho.

“We started a lot more hyped than we did the first game (against Rancho), and we jumped on them quick and we knew that would rattle them a little bit.” Amato said. “Scoring the runs early was really beneficial for us.”

Coronado 7, Liberty 1 — Johnson went 2-for-3 with two RBIs, and the Cougars scored six runs in the first inning to eliminate the Patriots (16-9-2).

Katie Dawson was 2-for-4, including a two-run double that gave Coronado a 3-0 lead. Lauren Buck was 2-for-3 with an RBI single for the Cougars, who sent 12 batters to the plate in the first.

Younie and Query each drove in a run for the Cougars, and Amato was 1-for-4 with a double.

Jillian James went the distance for Coronado, scattering six hits and working around three walks.

Ashleigh Rodriguez was 2-for-4 with a double, and Kylie Hefley drove in Liberty’s lone run with an RBI ground-out in the fourth to score Felicia Rivera.

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