LA CAÑADA — Put the La Cañada and Monrovia high softball teams on a field together and get ready for some drama — at least that’s the way it’s usually been the past two years.
Sticking true to the theme set in the previous two meetings this year, the third and final showdown of the season between the budding Rio Hondo League rivals ended in walk-off fashion Friday night.
With one out, the game tied and bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh inning, La Cañada’s Olivia Lam lined a single into right field. It scored the winner in the 8-7 thriller and provided the Spartans with their final clutch hit — of which they were many — in overcoming an early five-run deficit on the team’s fourth annual Strike Out Cancer fundraiser game, which benefits the American Cancer Society.
“I realized these are the kind of moments you play for. You wait for these walk-off hits, so I was nervous but at the same time excited,” said Lam, who was three for four with two runs batted in.
The win keeps the Spartans (9-5, 4-2 in league) in line to win their fifth straight league title. They’re in a tie with San Marino (12-4-1, 4-2) for second place with Temple City (8-8, 3-1) in first place after another dramatic finish with Monrovia.
“We walked off them, they walked off on us and then we come back to sort of get the last laugh,” said La Cañada Coach KC Mathews, whose team dropped consecutive league games for the first time since 2008 in a 5-4 loss to Monrovia Wednesday after previously losing to San Marino. “That’s two good teams playing there. We’ve played each other three times and it’s been fun every time.”
A five-run outburst in the second inning, highlighted by a Galvan Tanya grand slam, put La Cañada in a huge hole early. The Spartans climbed back into contention, but it seemed the Wildcats always had an answer.
La Cañada didn’t lead until Lam’s winner and trailed, 7-6, coming into its final at-bats.
The stage was set for Lam in the bottom of the seventh with a leadoff single by Annie Monroe, who was three for four on the night. Monroe was thrown out at second on a fielder’s choice from Michelle Grochow, who was substituted for pinch runner Michelle Musso.
Brenna Gay (four for four) remained perfect at the plate when she singled into right field, putting runners at first and second. Alyssa Stolmack also went the other way, singling into right again and scoring Musso to tie the game at 7.
With first base open after Gay and Stolmack moved to second and third on a bobbled ball and the throw home on the previous play, Monrovia opted to pitch around Jessica Ogden, who hit a solo homer in her previous appearance, to get to Lam.
Lam made sure the Wildcats regretted that move, jumping on the first pitch she saw and lining it past a diving second baseman to plate the winning run.
“It was the way we did it tonight, we were down and came back and they would get one,” said Mathews, whose team had 15 hits in the win, including multi-hit games from Katy Lee, Monroe, Gay and Lam. “There were a number of times where we could have lost our confidence and rolled it in, but they didn’t and battled and battled and battled.”
A pair of clutch, two-out hits in the second and third innings started La Cañada’s comeback. Lam got her team on the board when she pulled a double down the third-base line, scoring Stolmack, in the second. In the next inning, Grochow smashed a two-run homer into deep center to pull the Spartans within 5-3.
“It was hard to see that grand slam, but we knew we just had to chip away one by one,” Lam said. “We couldn’t expect to get ahead in an inning or two, we had to work all game.”
The Wildcats loaded the bases and scored again in the fourth on a Shelbi Zernickow run-scoring single.
Aubri Thompson helped the Spartans pull back within two, 6-4, when she lined a ball into right field that went through the fielder's glove in the fifth. Monrovia’s miscue was compounded with a throwing error out of right field that allowed Thompson to score on the play.
Monroe followed that with a double into the left-center field gap and moved to third on a Gay single. A successfully executed double steal and hook slide from Monroe pulled the Spartans within one, 6-5, until the Wildcats added another run on a La Cañada error.
Ogden gave the Spartans and their fans plenty of reason to believe in a comeback with a leadoff homer off the classroom wall in left field.
While the dramatics may be finished with Monrovia, La Cañada knows it could be in for a wild ride the rest of the league season with two games left with Temple City and San Marino looming.
“They seem to be our new rivals this year,” Gay said of Monrovia. “Every game is really close, one of us comes back and we just fight until the end. ... I think [this game] really made us get our confidence back and refocus ourselves for the rest of league, the rest of the season and playoffs.”