LA CAÑADA —Steady play in all three facets from the La Cañada High School softball team resulted in its first-ever victory in Division IV play in the CIF Southern Section playoffs Tuesday afternoon against visiting Hawthorne.
Solid defense and a potent offense led by leadoff hitter Olivia Leyva’s power surge complemented starting pitcher Maddy MacKenzie, as the Spartans snapped a two-game skid and will advance to the second round on Thursday after defeating the Cougars, 7-4, in front of their home faithful.
Leyva, a senior, was part of La Cañada’s 2012 CIF Division V championship, its second in a row, and showed her experience at the plate, going three for four with four runs batted in on a pair of triples and a solo home run to lead a lineup that compiled nine hits.
“My mentality is, if the ball is there, hit it,” said Leyva, who also finished the game with two runs scored. “That’s all I think about when I’m up there.”
A squad consisting of seven seniors — many of whom have won CIF — showed poise in the latter stages of its opening round matchup with a Hawthorne team that finished second in the Ocean League and had won seven of 10 to close out the season.
La Cañada (16-9) led, 6-0, before the Cougars (17-9) added two runs in both the fifth and sixth innings to cut the Spartans lead down to 6-4. Similarly to prior innings, however, base running mistakes on Hawthorne’s part, coupled with heads-up defense from the Spartans, ended the Cougars’ threat. They would not score again.
The double play started by first baseman Michelle Grochow in the sixth culminated in a rundown. The senior picked up a dribbler up the first base line and tagged out the Hawthorne batter before shifting her focus to the base runner, who mistakenly committed to making a dash for home.
La Cañada turned a garden-variety double play in the seventh to end the ballgame and received solid defense throughout the contest.
“They executed when they needed to and that speaks to their experience,” said La Cañada Coach KC Mathews, who guided the Spartans to a second-place finish in the Rio Hondo League. Those girls never quit and both teams should be proud of their effort.”
The Cougars were unable to get on the scoreboard early, despite a single with a runner on second and it cost them more than just one run when Kassandra Perez tripped while rounding third base and injured her leg in the second inning. She was tagged out and would not return.
“It was a huge loss,” Cougars Coach Jerry Contreras said. “She’s our anchor, our best hitter, so we needed to make adjustments. We discombobulated for a couple innings, but our pitcher kept us in the game and we fought hard to come back late.”
Hawthorne’s starter, Carrie Ludman, also went the distance and picked up the loss.
La Cañada struck for five runs in the bottom half of the second, beginning with Megan Reilly’s double that scored Brenna Gay, who led off the inning with a single and advanced to second on a passed ball. Michelle Musso picked up Reilly on a grounder, and was able to reach second on a throwing error to first.
With runners on second and third, Leyva’s two-run triple plated Musso and Julia Harbolt. Katy Lee’s sacrifice bunt allowed Leyva to score, extending La Cañada’s lead to 5-0.
Leyva’s mentality to just hit the ball if it’s there was in full display in the bottom of the fourth, as she took the first pitch she saw and roped it over the fence in center field. Her second triple of the game capped the game’s scoring, plating Musso.
MacKenzie allowed four hits through the first four innings, until a pair of doubles in the fifth put Hawthorne on the scoreboard.
“We executed well,” said Mathews, who also received two hits from Gay. “We executed our pitches; we executed our approach at the plate by getting productive outs and hitting the ball hard and defensively we did a really good job.”