BURBANK — Thus far in the Pacific League season, the Burbank High softball team, seen as the favorite by most to repeat as league champion, has run roughshod over some overmatched competition.
On Thursday afternoon, the Bulldogs faced their most arduous opposition yet, but behind a stellar effort in the circle from junior pitcher Caitlyn Brooks and some early offense, Burbank still looked impressive in a 3-0 win over Crescenta Valley at McCambridge Park.
“We’ve taken care of business,” said first-year Burbank Coach Mike Delaney, whose squad improved to 11-3 and 4-0 in league with its ninth win in a row. “I don’t think any coach is ever satisfied … but I think they’re doing everything we’ve asked them to do: go out, take care of business and be ready to play.
“They’ve handled it like an experienced, talented team.”
Brooks, the reigning All-Area Softball Player of the Year, was the catalyst, twirling the shutout with 10 strikeouts, one walk and four hits – albeit, none of them were clean.
She also ignited the offense, doubling home Sabrina Steward in the first inning for the first run of the game before senior Kaitlin Brooks (three for three) singled in Amber Ingram (Caitlin’s courtesy runner) for a 2-0 advantage to set the tone and provide more than enough for a winning margin.
“I feel like their lineup is strong,” said Caitlin of Crescenta Valley, “but I trusted my pitches today and I got stronger as the game went on. I felt confident in the circle and when you feel confident, you can put the ball where you want it to go.”
Ranked fifth in CIF Southern Section Division III, the Bulldogs, who won their 18th straight Pacific League game, kept pace atop the standings with archrival and fellow league-unbeaten Burroughs (4-0 in league), No. 8 in the division.
Still, against Crescenta Valley (7-6, 2-2), the Bulldogs left plenty of opportunities on the bases, stranding nine runners, much to the dismay of Delaney.
“I wasn’t pleased with our hitting today. We left a lot of chances out there,” Delaney said. “It’s not what we’ve been practicing or doing this year.”
For her part, though, Falcons senior pitcher Olivia Thayer did her best in trying to navigate the gauntlet that is the Bulldogs’ lineup. Thayer went the distance, allowing three runs, nine hits and four walks, while striking out seven and dancing out of trouble in seemingly every inning.
“They’re a good team,” said Falcons first-year Coach John Pehar of Burbank. They hit the ball; we need to hit the ball like them.”
Seven of nine Burbank starters notched hits and eight reached base. Thayer pitched with runners on base in every inning.
Nonetheless, it was Crescenta Valley that had a chance to draw first blood.
Freshman catcher Rachael Abboud led off the game with a single that appeared to be heading foul, but was nicked by the glove of the outstretched Burbank third baseman.
Two outs and batters later, senior Taylor Hill lined a double to right field that seemed to catch the right fielder by surprise and skipped off the top of her glove, as well. Brooks induced a groundout to end the threat and Burbank took over and plated its two first-inning runs.
“Just trying to squeeze in a run, it didn’t happen,” Pehar said.
Consecutive singles by sophomore Julia Duarte, Kaitlin Brooks and junior Jazmin Orozco began the third for Burbank. Thayer induced a first-pitch 6-4-3 double play, though. It scored Duarte for a 3-0 lead, but the damage was minimal, as Thayer ended the threat with a strikeout.
Hailey Cookson, who had two hits, led off the Crescenta Valley fourth with an infield single as sophomore second baseman Cailey Stevenson couldn’t make a barehanded play on a dying ball.
But Stevenson made a stellar play to end the inning when she attacked another slow roller and got off a great throw to end the threat with Cookson at second.
Two more Burbank runners reached in the fourth, but Abboud ended the inning when she threw out a would-be base stealer. Thereafter, Burbank didn’t get more than one runner aboard in an inning.
The Falcons’ last gasp came in the sixth with their Nos. 3-4-5 batters due up, but only Cookson got on with a two-out infield single despite a terrific diving effort by Stevenson.
The Bulldogs have now outscored their first four league foes, 59-1, as Crescenta Valley was shut out for the second time this season.
Going forward, though, both teams believe the outlook is positive.
“I know we can only improve and we’ll be ready for them the next time,” said Pehar, whose Falcons host Burbank on May 6. “Playing on our homefield, we’re going to have a little bit of an advantage and we’re gonna try to use that advantage.”
Said Caitlin Brooks: “We’re just trying to focus and play. This wasn’t our best outing, but if this wasn’t our best outing, then the sky’s the limit.”
Follow Grant Gordon on Twitter: @TCNGrantGordon.