Orange Cove softball eyes third straight D-IV title

Castillo strikes out 11 in fourth shutout of season as Titans blank Lemoore to reach semifinals, win over Pioneer Valley would mean a third straight trip to Fresno State for title game

Orange Cove’s Kendra Talingo slides head first into second base with a steal during the fourth inning of the Titans’ 3-0 Division IV softball quarterfinal playoff victory over Lemoore High at OCHS on May 17. The freshman went on to score the first run of the game as Orange Cove (21-9) moved a step closer to a third consecutive D-IV section title. (Jon Earnest)
Jon Earnest
Published May 20, 2024  • 
11:00 am

ORANGE COVE – Orange Cove’s perennial power softball program is a win away from a return to its “second home” — the Fresno State’s Margie Wright Diamond softball stadium.

The two-time reigning Central Section Division IV champions, guided by big games from senior veterans Mia Castillo and Star Elizondo, shut out No. 7 seed Lemoore High by a 3-0 score in a D-IV quarterfinal matchup at OCHS diamond on May 17.

A home win against No. 3 Pioneer Valley (12-12) on May 22 (4:30 p.m. start) would advance the No. 2 seed Titans (21-9) to a 1:30 p.m. championship game Saturday, May 25 at Fresno State. It also could be a third straight finals matchup against Mission College Prep, as the top seed Royals (13-8-1) play No. 4 Kerman in the other semifinal.

Castillo and Elizondo, two major stars in Orange Cove’s two championship seasons (including a Southern California Regional title in 2022), were key contributors in the quarterfinal win over Lemoore (12-17-1). Pitcher Castillo kept the Tigers offense handcuffed with a complete-game three-hitter and 11 strikeouts, giving her 250 for the season and 631 career strikeouts.

Castillo also singled and drove in one of the team’s runs while Elizondo, who will play softball at Cal State University, Monterey, scored a run and also added a hit. Both players reached on Lemoore errors in the sixth inning, resulting in the team’s third run.

“When we played Kern Valley (a 10-2 playoff win on May 15), we got a little momentum,” head coach Victor Contreras said of his Titans squad. “We’re trying to three-peat, and nobody’s ever done that before. And I can see why because it’s a lot of work. People don’t understand that it’s not an easy feat.”

As the weather warms, Castillo seems to pick up her intensity and dominance. She said training in hot weather and afternoon practices gets her ready to perform, and the team’s difficult pre-league schedule against many Division I and II schools also has been beneficial.

“I’ve gotten used to it, with travel (ball) and in the past two years, it’s gotten to where it doesn’t really bother me,” she said “I think being second seed this year is good, I feel it’s given us some competition. I think (the tough early schedule) was very helpful because I knew toward the end we’re going to play teams like that.”

Castillo and Lemoore pitcher Izzy Hendrickson battled through a scoreless three innings, with Orange Cove denied a run in the third when Elizondo was thrown out at the plate trying to score on a bunt-and-run groundout by Castillo. But the Titans got all the offense they ultimately would need in the fourth inning. Maddy Powers led off with a single, and pinch-runner Kendra Talingo stole second and then scored on Hazel Ocejo’s single to center field.

Orange Cove made it 2-0 in the fifth when Elizondo lofted a long fly to right that got past fielder Jenni Govea and enabled Elizondo to race around to third. One out later, Castillo sent a flyball to right that caromed off Govea’s glove, enabling Elizondo to score.

The Titans’ final run came in the sixth inning when Ocejo walked, took second on a sacrifice and scored on a pair of wild pitches. Castillo — who has drawn interest from Cal State Bakersfield and also has community college options — retired the final five batters in order, getting a pair of fine defensive plays from outfielders Miah Lopez and Sarah Portillo.

Hendrickson, Makena Makekau and Giselle Rodriguez had Lemoore’s three hits, with Makekau’s double to the gap in left center the team’s only extra base hit. Orange Cove collected six hits off pitchers Hendrickson and Govea.

Jon Earnest