No. 1 Burbank softball staves off upset-minded La Salle, 1-0, in first round of playoffs

BURBANK — It was nailbiting, controversial and chaotic.

But in the end, more than anything, it was a sigh of relief for the Burbank High softball team.

The Bulldogs, seeded No. 1 in the CIF Southern Section Division III playoffs, survived a scare and scratched out a run in the bottom of the sixth inning before fending off a seventh-inning rally to defeat La Salle, 1-0, on Tuesday afternoon at McCambridge Park in the first round.

"I think [La Salle is] a great program and a well-coached team," Burbank junior pitcher Caitlyn Brooks said. "I think we, as a team, weren't hitting to our potential and that allowed them to play to their potential."

Junior courtesy runner Hanna Moulton, replacing Brooks on the bases, scored the game's only run in the top of the sixth inning, before Burbank fended off La Salle, which put three runners on in the seventh, including one that was punched out on a controversial play at the plate, to advance into Thursday's second round.

Brooks struck out 12 in the shutout, holding La Salle (16-11) to five hits and staving off the Lancers' upset bid. The Bulldogs (25-3) will now travel to face wild-card team Palos Verdes (21-6), which defeated La Habra on Tuesday, 5-1.

"We knew she was a great pitcher, but we face pitching like that all the time," La Salle Coach Rich Diaz said of Brooks. "We're in the Del Rey League and our league is far more competitive than their league. We came in not intimidated at all."

With the game scoreless heading into the bottom of the sixth inning, Brooks walked with two outs and was replaced by Moulton.

A single to center field by junior Lily Winn followed to put runners at first and second.

A line drive off the pitcher's glove for an infield single by sophomore Julia Duarte then loaded the bases.

Then, on a 1-2 count, junior Jazmin Orozco sent a hot shot to shortstop that was mishandled. The error allowed Moulton to score, but La Salle got the throw in to just get Winn at the plate to end the inning.

It wasn't the last error, or the last play at the plate, however.

La Salle's leadoff batter reached on an error to start the seventh. Then with one away, La Salle put runners on first and second on a bunt single to second base.

But, while the arm of Caitlyn Brooks kept the Lancers at bay throughout, it was the arm of senior right fielder Kaitlin Brooks that saved the day.

La Salle's Riley Worley laid down a bunt to third base and the ensuing throw got past the Burbank first baseman, but Kaitlin Brooks was there to back up the play.

"She is always in the right spot," Burbank Coach Mike Delaney said. "She's just always where we need her to be."

True to form, Kaitlin Brooks was there and delivered a perfect throw home to catcher Bridgette Pisa for the second out of the inning, as the lead La Salle runner was trying to score from second on the play.

"Bridgette did a great job stopping them from scoring," Caitlyn Brooks said.

Too good a job if you asked the Lancers faithful, who were irate with the call, arguing that Pisa had blocked the plate before the ball had arrived, thereby obstructing the runner.

"The argument was she was blocking the plate before the ball got to the plate," Diaz said. "[The umpire] said she blocked the plate after she got the ball, so, in his mind, it wasn't obstruction at all. [The catcher] never moved."

A batter later, Caitlyn Brooks struck out her 12th batter and the Bulldogs were on to the second round.

Before that, though, they had an arduous time, struggling at the plate with just four hits and in the field with three errors.

"We didn't play the best we could," Kaitlin Brooks said.

A single to opposite-field left by Isabele Frias in the first inning began Burbank's day, but hardly represented it, as the Bulldogs went without another hit until an infield single from sophomore Cailey Stevenson in the bottom of the fifth.

In the second, third and fourth, the Bulldogs were retired in order.

"We just have to learn to make some adjustments," said Delaney, who got two walks from Caitlyn Brooks. "My message to them was you just can't wait. In the playoffs you might not get that perfect chance when the right batter is up at the right time."

La Salle, an at-large entry out of the Del Rey League that defeated Quartz Hill, 5-2, in a wild-card game on Monday, was buoyed by the pitching of Paula Damas, who went the distance, allowing four hits, two walks and striking out four.

The Lancers had runners in scoring position in the second after a bunt single and an error and in the fifth after a leadoff single — the first clean hit after a bloop in the third that likely should've been caught — was followed by a pair of sacrifice bunts. Caitlyn Brooks notched a strikeout to end the threat in the second and induced a groundout to short in the fifth to quell that chance.

"We just didn't cash in on those opportunities," Diaz said.

It was the 22nd straight victory for the Bulldogs, though they've had to fight hard lately, having defeated Glendale, 2-0, and rival Burroughs, 5-4, in nine innings in their last two Pacific League games to finish as the undefeated league champions before Tuesday's playoff opener, which ended with the go-ahead run on second and the tying run at third.

"That last inning was quite exciting," Caitlyn Brooks joked.

Going forward, though, Tuesday's scare might well pay dividends.

Said Kaitlin Brooks: "I think we've got some more fire, because we know people are talking and adjusting to us."


Follow Grant Gordon on Twitter: @TCNGrantGordon.

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