When facing elimination in any sporting event, it’s always good to have an ace up your sleeve.
Even better when your ace is the caliber of sophomore pitcher Jessie Gilbert.
The Ocosta star was nearly perfect in throwing a seven-inning no-hitter to lead the Wildcats to a 1-0 win over Onalaska in a 2B District 4 Tournament game on Monday in Montesano.
In one of four tournament play-in games on the day, Ocosta (17-4 overall) rode a dazzling effort by Gilbert to victory.
The Wildcats ace allowed no runs, hits or walks while striking out 19 Loggers in an incredible performance.
The only Logger to reach base against Gilbert was Yuliana Escalera, who led off the sixth with a grounder to the right side that scooted between the legs of Wildcats first baseman Joanah Rosander for an error.
Escalera reached second on passed ball, but was stranded there as Gilbert struck out the next three batters.
The Wildcats offense found it nearly as difficult to score off Gilbert’s counterpart in the circle, Onalaska’s Lisa Liddell.
The Loggers’ right-hander was stingy, allowing just four hits without a walk while striking out 13 Ocosta hitters in what turned out to be a classic pitcher’s duel.
Ocosta had a chance to score in the bottom of the fourth when Gilbert doubled with one out and became the first batter in the game to reach scoring position.
After Liddell struck out Ocosta catcher Noel Cuzdey, Brynn Rasmus was hit by a pitch to put runners on first and second with two outs. But Liddell struck out Morales on five pitches to end the inning.
The Wildcats put two on with two out again in the fifth after Gabby Ness reached on an error and Samantha Schlegel singled. But Liddell got out of the jam by inducing a deep fly out to right field off the bat of Rosander.
In the bottom of the sixth, Ocosta would finally get to the Loggers ace. With nobody on and two outs, Rasmus singled to bring Morales to the plate, and this time the sophomore third baseman didn’t miss.
Morales drove Liddell’s 1-2 pitch to the center-field fence. Rasmus came all the way around from first to score as Morales stood on second with an RBI double to break the scoreless tie.
“I saw (the pitch) was coming, I didn’t doubt it and I went for it,” Morales said of her clutch hit. “I was excited and super-hyped. (The crowd reaction) was loud and I loved it, 100 percent.”
That was all the run-support Gilbert would need as the league MVP and all-state candidate closed the door on the Loggers, mowing down Randi Haight, Liddell and Kaiyah Sandridge to complete the no-hitter and eliminate Onalaska from the postseason.
“I was a little nervous in the first inning, but after that I felt confident and ready to go. In the fifth inning they were starting to get me and I was like ‘Hey, I just got to pick it up a little bit,’” Gilbert said. “Zaida got Brynn in with her clutch hit and that’s kind of when my stress went down. I knew my team would have my back.”
Gilbert acknowledged the game is was stressful due to it’s win-or-go-home nature and Lidell going toe-to-toe in putting zeros on the scoreboard.
“They are probably one of the best teams we’ve faced and (Liddell), she is good. Definitely one of the toughest pitchers. I am going to give her credit. She pitched incredible,” Gilbert said. “I knew coming in this game it would be difficult, but I knew we could do it.”
The win was an important one for a young Ocosta team lacking in significant playoff experience.
“(The win) meant a lot because if we do end up going further, it will be our first time with this (current) team, so it would be exciting,” Morales said.
Ocosta’s reward for advancing to the quarterfinal round is a date with last season’s state runner-up and one of the favorites to win it all this year – the Adna Pirates.
The Wildcats will face the Pirates at noon on Wednesday at Borst Park in Centralia.
Gilbert – the likely starter against the powerful Pirates – said her team is going to enjoy and learn from the experience.
“Keep going and have fun,” she said. “Keep having confidence in my team and see how it goes.”
Onalaska 000 000 0 – 0 0 2
Ocosta 000 001 x – 1 4 1
WP: Gilbert (7 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 19 K). LP: Liddell (6 IP, R, ER, 4 H, 13 K).
Leading hitters: Ocosta – Morales (1-3, 2B, RBI); Rasmus (1-3, R); Gilbert (1-3, 2B); S. Schlegel (1-3).