RENO – Maybe Julia Jensen likes throwing at Hixson Park, her future home field. Or maybe she’s just really good at softball.
The prior is likely true. The latter certainly is.
The junior Nevada commit struck out 15 and surrendered just four hits and one walk in a complete game shutout on Thursday, leading Reed to a 2-0 win over Rancho in the first round of the DI state tournament.
“In my opinion, there’s nobody better,” Reed coach Jon Wunder said. “You give her some runs and play some defense behind her, she’s going to be tough to beat.”
Mackenzie Howren gave Jensen her first run in the top of the fourth, short-hopping the fence in center for a two-out RBI double. Reed’s second double of the inning off Sam Pochop came on an 0-2 pitch.
Jensen led off the frame with a double of her own. Pinch runner Gabby Kahl watched the next two batters pop up until Howren broke the scoreless tie, driving in just the 10th earned run of the season surrendered by Pochop.
Rancho’s ace entered with a 15-2 record and a 0.45 ERA over 138.2 innings.
“I just knew we had a runner in scoring position and no matter what, I had to hit the ball and put it in play so we had a chance to score,” Howren said of her RBI double.
Pochop absorbed the complete game loss, allowing two runs (both earned) on three hits and two walks. She fanned seven.
“She’s one of the top pitchers in the state. She mixes her pitches well,” Wunder said.
Senior Alexis Gonzalez gifted Jensen an insurance run in the top of the seventh, blasting the first pitch of the inning beyond the tall fence in right center, into the wind.
Jensen proceeded to strike out the side in the bottom of the seventh. It was the third time of the game she recorded all three outs via strikeout.
“Julia’s an amazing pitcher,” Howren said. “Words can’t describe how proud of her I am.”
Jensen’s now thrown 36 straight scoreless innings in the postseason (including the DI North tournament) and 40.1 consecutive scoreless innings going back to the regular season.
That streak was threatened a couple times early in the contest.
In the second, Rancho had a runner on third with no outs only to botch a suicide squeeze – twice.
In the third, Kat Anthony hit the Rams’ second straight leadoff double and was stranded there after Jensen got a groundout to Kenzi Goins (another Nevada commit) at short and sat the next two batters down.
Rancho did not advance a runner past first the rest of the way.
Reed advanced to the semifinals where it will square off with Spanish Springs on Friday at 2:45 p.m. at Hixson Park. The Raiders topped the Cougs twice in the DI North regional tournament, including in Saturday’s title game.
“Both teams know each other,” Wunder said. “We know who they’re going to throw (Hayley Fein), they know who we’re going to throw (Jensen). We just have to come out and be confident, get some base runners on and score when we have those opportunities.”
With a win, the defending state champs would advance to the state title game on Saturday. With a loss, they would play immediately after in a loser-out game against the winner of Rancho and Shadow Ridge, which fell to Spanish Springs on Thursday.
First pitch of the Rancho-Shadow Ridge game is at 12:30 p.m. Friday at Hixson Park.