Escondido, CA

Dunckel’s two-hit gem stifles San Pasqual in 4-1 victory

For the first five innings of last Friday night’s softball encounter between Valley (League) rivals and nearby neighbors Valley Center and San Pasqual, it was a pair of starting right-handed pitchers who were exerting their will during a 1-1 deadlock.
Both Jaguar hurler Katelyn Dunckel and her Golden Eagle counterpart Raquel Moore were dealing to great effect. In many ways they mirrored each other, with the pop on their fastballs and the deception of their off-speed stuff keeping opposing hitters clearly off balance.
Obviously with runs at a premium, it seemed that whichever team could break through with the next score or two would be in the catbird’s seat to secure the win—and sure enough, that’s exactly how the script played out.
Thanks to a clutch RBI single off the bat of Madi Piva and a follow-up sacrifice lineout by Taylor Friend that plated another run, the Jags put up a two-spot in the top of the sixth and given the way that Dunckel was firing away, that would prove to be more than enough in an eventual 4-1 triumph for visiting VC.
To say that Dunckel was dominant might be an understatement. Not only did she yield just a pair of infield singles and a lone unearned run but the talented junior struck out 10 while retiring the last 11 batters that she faced. Another indication of her mastery was the fact that from innings three through six, seven of the nine outs that she recorded came via punchouts. For most of the contest, Dunckel was truly in lockdown mode.
With their latest win, the Jags of coach Bill Dunckel improved their overall record to 9-9 while the G. Eagles fell to 12-10 on the year.
This rare nighttime game, held at Kit Carson Park, was scheduled for the evening to allow for more parents, relatives and interested parties to be able to attend Senior Night, a celebration of the contributions made to the SP program by outgoing players Kassandra Blanchard and captain Samara Salaheddine. In a classy gesture, the G. Eagles also took the time to acknowledge and salute VC’s pair of senior performers, Piva and Hailey Johnson.
Before detailing the events of the fateful sixth frame, some set-up is required. San Pasqual had fashioned an early lead in its half of the third when Salaheddine grounded a ball to the left side of the infield before hustling hard and beating the throw to first base for a single. The aggressive SP centerfielder then took off and comfortably stole second. Shortly thereafter, she was in motion again, copping third with another daring theft and when the catcher’s hurried throw sailed wide and into left field, Salaheddine scrambled to her feet and motored home with the first run of the game.
An inning later, the G. Eagles were poised to expand on that margin in what proved to be Dunckel’s most severe test of the night. Olivia Burroughs kicked things off with a one-out shot to deep short that went for an infield hit when she was ruled safe on a bang-bang play at first. Then, things got even dicier for the Jags when Annie Villalobos was hit by a pitch and Moore drew a walk to load the bases. The next hitter was first baseman Autumn Crawford and when she jumped ahead in the count 2-0, Dunckel was truly up against it. But in this most defining moment, Dunckel refused to buckle, found her slot and really began to bring it. It wasn’t long before she had leveled the count before fanning Crawford with a high-octane heater. Now back on the beam and feeling it, Dunckel then buzzed a third-strike fastball past Salaheddine that quelled this major threat and kept the Jags close.
Perhaps drawing inspiration from Dunckel’s stout work on the mound, the Jags finally managed to get something going against Moore in the top of the fifth. The key blow was a deep drive into right-center field off the bat of Friend. Never once hesitating, the VC second baseman scooted around the bases and with a dramatic slide, ended up with a timely triple. One out later she would score when teammate Cheyenne Prescott went the other way with a pitch and hit it hard enough that the ball skipped through the legs of Crawford at first.
That then set the stage for the decisive sixth inning which saw the Jags score a pair of runs. Dunckel kickstarted things when she dropped down an exquisite bunt single out in front of the plate and subsequently advanced to second on a passed ball. Now it Piva who was provided with a chance for redemption after Moore had previously whiffed her twice, once on a high fastball and then on the third of three straight changeups that had the VC senior way out in front.
And it sure looked as if Piva would be victimized by yet another K when she fell behind in the count 1-2 – seemingly at Moore’s mercy once again. However, Piva proved to be the ultimate gamer when she subsequently fought off multiple pitches including a pair of changes that were barely fouled off. Moore then went for the kill by trying to blow some gas by Piva but the veteran Jag was ready and she smoked it up the middle for a clutch RBI single that chased home Dunckel. Unquestionably, Piva’s dogged perseverance had produced the most memorable at-bat of the entire ball game.
The Jags now had their first lead and they were quick to build on it. The tack on came as a result of a rope single to left by Mackenzie Olivo, a sacrifice bunt and finally Friend’s hard hit lineout to right that cashed in the Jags third run.
VC would add some icing in the seventh courtesy of Ryenne Stehly’s well-placed punch single that brought in the Jags fourth and final tally but by that time Dunckel had become all but unhittable and virtually no doubt remained about the game’s eventual outcome.
Though in defeat, SP’s Blanchard and Villalobos merit special mention, one for what she was able to accomplish and the other for what might have been. Flashing some mighty fancy leather, Blanchard proved to be a defensive whiz when she made a pair of spectacular diving catches that robbed the Jags of what appeared to be certain hits.
As for Villalobos, a powerful athlete with a potent arm, twice in three innings she turned on Dunckel offerings and pulled them deep down the leftfield line, only to see them hook foul by some fifteen feet or so. Both these balls were mashed and possessed more than enough home run depth. Had Villalobos been able to straighten either of them out, the dynamic of this contest might have drastically changed. As it was, these long-distance shots merely amounted to loud fouls and a pair of tantalizing near-misses.
In a game that pitted two solid ball clubs vying for some local bragging rights, the outcome came down to whose starting pitcher could extend her mastery the longest. In this case, it was Katelyn Dunckel’s enviable staying power that proved to be the difference.

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