Christine Olivas really likes the flair for dramatics.
That, or she's just good under pressure, because for the second consecutive time against Chandler, the Hamilton junior made one swing sting.
Twice in the past four days, Olivas hit one out, this time immediately following a big inning by Chandler, and her shot over the centerfield wall gave Hamilton a lead it wouldn't relinquish a second time in a 6-3 victory on Thursday afternoon.
On Monday, she hit the second of the Huskies' two home runs - both came with two outs in the seventh inning - during a crazy seventh-inning comeback in what became an 8-5 win for the Huskies.
This time, she negated a three-run home run by Chandler's Tori Blakesley in the top of the fifth which briefly tied the rivalry game at 3-3.
The win was Hamilton's third in a row, and the Huskies (No. 23 in Division I power rankings entering Friday's game against Basha) are alive in the playoff pursuit.
"We're gradually getting there," Huskies coach Rocky Parra said. "We have some pieces we're starting to put together."
Even with the much-needed win, securing one of those top 24 spots won't be easy, however. The Huskies get No. 3 Basha on Friday (Basha won 6-0 in the first meeting in late February), Horizon (No. 11) and Perry (No. 16) next week, followed by Xavier (No. 8) and Casa Grande (No. 12 in Div. II and beat the Huskies last week).
Still, Parra, the first-year coach who was most recently a Basha assistant (and has long been a high school and club coach in the area) sees one starting senior (third baseman Rayven Cannon, who had two doubles and scored twice), a defense full of sophomores and juniors and two freshman pitchers (Vanessa Marquez and Cheyenne Noli, who earned the win on Thursday with a complete-game five-hitter).
Though excited about this roster in the coming 1-3 years, the Huskies have seen relatively little success in recent years (unlike most other sports at the school) but are eyeing a state tournament trip next month.
The loss to Casa Grande could prove pivotal in that regard, but a chance at redemption plus a win or two against higher-ranked schools within this difficult final two weeks is feasible.
That's in-part because the Huskies scratched across two runs in the first inning when leadoff hitter Sami Reynolds singled, stole second and took advantage of a couple wild pitches and hit by pitch. Shannon Rackoski's sacrifice fly scored Reynolds and Noli's slapped an RBI double.
Chandler (No. 36 entering Thursday's games) put the pressure on in the first two innings but came up empty, but after Hamilton used an error to make it 3-0, Blakesley smacked her shot to straightaway center field with two outs to tie the score at 3-3.
Chandler had prior chances in the inning, which meant the home run could have given Chandler the lead, but a couple hard-hit balls became outs and another runner was thrown out at home on a fielder's choice.
That's been Chandler's season-long story. Coach Kim Higginbotham essentially took this season off after having a baby girl three months ago. The Wolves got off to a fast start to the season during the Marcos de Niza/Dobson tournament behind their hitting, and played both Horizon and Basha down to the wire.
The Wolves again showed resolve after the early 3-0 deficit, got another solid defensive game from center fielder Makenna Allen and had at least one runner on base in each of the first five innings.
But it's been a struggle to find wins since the Desert Mountain tournament in late March. Playing their fourth game in four days on Thursday, the Wolves' disposition remained mostly upbeat even after their fifth consecutive loss and seven in eight games since the tournament.
"Situational hitting, stringing hits together, hasn't been good lately," said interim coach Adam Frange. "Pitching has kept us in games for the most part, and we made a few errors (Thursday) but it's been solid. I think we feel like we can beat the good teams, and we want to see tough teams because we can beat them, but it hasn't happened."
Hamilton will get its fair share of tough competition the rest of the regular season, and while the power rankings positions change daily, where they stand in relation to the rest of Division I's playoff picture has been public and player discussion.
The Huskies know simply competing against higher-ranked teams the rest of the way won't be enough without a few wins.
"I want them to know it's important for several reasons," Parra said. "I think we can get in and beat a team or two."
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.