The Mount Shasta High School softball team advanced to the second round of the playoffs in dramatic style Tuesday, after freshman Kayla Spini’s walk-off home run lifted the Bears to a 6-5 win over Yreka at Shastice Park.
Mount Shasta, now 25-6 overall, will face Wheatland (16-11) in a showdown between the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in the NSCIF Division 4 Championship Bracket this Thursday at 4 p.m.
Wheatland won its playoff opener over No. 7 Corning, 2-0, on Tuesday. Thursday’s winner advances to the championship game on Saturday, likely to be played at No. 1 Sutter (31-0).
In front of their largest crowd of the season, host Mount Shasta trailed Yreka, 5-0, going into the bottom of the fourth inning. Then the momentum turned.
Spini led off the bottom of the fourth with a double, then sophomore catcher Tori Weatherford hit a two-run home run to cut Yreka’s lead to 5-2.
The Bears got within a run on a pair of run-scoring hits in the sixth by Cynthia Laiacona and Emma Taylor.
The sixth inning ended when head coach Greg Eastman gave Kismet Prosper the go-home  sign as she reached third base on a teammate’s single to right field. A strong throw by Yreka’s outfielder reached the catcher well before Prosper did. She halted, got into a rundown, and was eventually tagged out at the plate on a close play.
Meanwhile, Spini, who had given up five runs in the first four innings – four of them unearned – was shutting Yreka down. And the Bears’ defense, which committed five errors early in the game, returned to its normal brand of solid defense.
When the Miners got a runner to third base in the seventh inning, Bears third baseman Mackenzie Hanna fielded a ground ball, looked the runner back and threw to first for the out as the Yreka runner broke for home. A perfect throw by Sammy Reed to Weatherford got her at the plate to complete a doubleplay.
Eastman said Reed had a couple of fielding miscues early in the game, but made up for it later. She also caught a foul pop up while running full speed toward the fence.
“Players on championship teams know how to regroup when things go wrong,” Eastman said. “That’s what Sammy did.”
Down to their final half inning and still trailing by a run, the Bears stayed alive thanks to some aggressive baserunning of Kayla Emerson. Standing on second base when Yreka’s second baseman caught a pop up in short right field with her back to the infield, Emerson immediately took off for third. When the throw got away from Yreka’s third baseman, Emerson came around to score, raising her arms in glee as she crossed the plate.
Spini retired the Miners one-two-three in the top of the eighth, then led off the Bears’ half of the first extra inning.
“I told her I?expected them to walk her,”?Eastman said. “I said if they do throw you a strike, then swing away after that. They threw her a strike; on the next pitch she hit a bullet line drive over the fence.”
Spini was greeted by a happy bunch of teammates at home plate.
“Any time you come back from 5-0 to win a game it’s exciting,” Eastman said,?"but to do it in the playoffs against a very very good team – it was a super-exciting moment for our girls... Nothing is more exciting than a walk-off home run, but it took everybody's contributions to get to that point. These girls never quit.”
No. 2 Wheatland finished second in the Butte View League standings to undefeated Sutter (31-0), the No. 1 seed in Division 4.
Like the Bears, Wheatland won its playoff opener behind a freshman pitcher, KC Silva, who allowed just one hit against Corning.
Though Mount Shasta and Wheatland have few common opponents this season, the Bears also defeated Corning in a close game, 3-2, during the Lady Miners tournament in Yreka on March 20. Spini struck out 11, walked one and allowed 7 hits in that game.
“Hopefully we can continue doing what we’ve been doing so well this season,” Eastman said. “We know we’ll get good pitching; we just need to hit a little more than them.”
Sutter, by the way, has a senior pitcher, Jessica Moore, who allowed just 23 hits and 5 runs in 191 innings this season, including 15 no-hitters and 455 strikeouts.