Some high schools go decades without ever making it to a championship game.
Such was the case at Flintridge Sacred Heart High School in La Canada. But after a 54-year wait, the small, private, all-girls Catholic school had not only one chance but two to win a Small Schools Division championship this year in a space of less than three months.
Unfortunately, Flintridge came away as a bridesmaid both times, in basketball and softball.
Last Saturday, the Tologs (the name is an acronym for "To Our Lady of Great Success") were defeated by Linfield Christian, 6--2, in the softball championship game at Mayfair Park in Lakewood. The red second-place plaque the school received matches the one the basketball team got when it lost to Boron High in the championship game in March.
"We just can't bring that blue (championship) plaque home," said Coach Bill Sanchez, who coached the softball, basketball and volleyball teams to Horizon League championships in his first year at Flintridge Sacred Heart. "Things just didn't work out the way we wanted them to go."
For some of Sanchez's softball players, the Linfield loss was a repeat performance.
Eight members of the softball team also experienced the heartbreak of being so close to winning the basketball championship. Five also played on the volleyball team, which made it to the playoff semifinals before being defeated by Boron.
It has been a year of being close.
"It's disappointing because we were so close," said Janice Miller, Tolog senior right fielder, who was also center and leading scorer with a 14.9 scoring average for the basketball team. "We wanted it so badly."
Sacred Heart jumped to an early 2-0 lead against Linfield but faltered in the later innings by giving up three unearned runs. Sophomore pitcher Julie Moscicki, who paced the team all year, struck out 11 but walked six.
Quite a Surprise
The only consolation for some of the players was that Flintridge, which finished with a 19-5 overall record and unblemished 12-0 Horizon League mark, was not supposed to be in the finals.
Unseeded before the 32-team playoff tournament, Sanchez's young 15-girl squad, which had only three seniors, upset second-seeded Woodcrest High, 1-0, in the semifinals.
"We had nothing to lose, we weren't supposed to win that many games," said the 26-year-old Sanchez. "We always shoot for it (a championship), but I don't think they expected to get that far."
Because of the success of the basketball team and five playoff games, the Tologs had to cancel three preseason softball games and had only two days of practice with a full squad before league softball play began.
But what the team lacked in practice time, it made up in determination and hard work, Sanchez said.
'A Tough Transition'
"It was a tough transition (from basketball to softball)," said Sanchez. "It took us a while to get going."
But the result was the same--success.
The softball team, like the volleyball and basketball teams, did not lose a Horizon League contest. The volleyball team finished with 20-4 overall record and the basketball team was 23-3.
Sanchez, who had never coached girls, softball or basketball before he began at Sacred Heart in the fall, said he believes in a positive outlook and motivation.
"I'm proud of what he's accomplished this year," said Betsy Sauer, athletic director for the school of 320 students situated atop a hill in Flintridge since 1931. "He works well with the girls. They learn to push themselves. They learned he's not going to accept anything but their best."
Said Sanchez: "The players, the athletic director, the parents and the school have been just super. Everybody has been helpful and has backed me 100%."
Working on the Basics
Stressing fundamentals, Sanchez concentrated on softball basics such as throwing, keeping the head down and fielding. He molded his talented young team, which included three juniors, six sophomores and two freshmen. His no-frills approach may not have turned many heads, but it did win games.
Fundamentals are "the bottom line," said Sanchez, who was the volleyball coach at Loyola High, an all-boys school, for two years before he joined Sacred Heart. "Even if you've learned it, you still have to start out fresh every year. Once they get that down, they find that it does pay off."
It certainly did, especially in the emotional semifinal victory against Woodcrest.
Competing with a starting lineup of four sophomores, including Moscicki, who allowed only one hit in the game, the Tologs shut down Woodcrest. Moscicki finished with a 14-2 record, winning 13 of her last 14 starts, and a 1.10 league ERA.
"We peaked at the right time. It was pretty exciting to see the girls playing up to their potential. We played well in the playoffs," said Sanchez, whose squad had a .381 batting average.
"Every time the challenge was there, they stepped up and took the challenge on. They have nothing to be ashamed of. If you put it in the right perspective, we're not here to build winners, we're here to build individuals. And we've succeeded.
"We want them to play up to their expectations and standards. We're out there to play our best, and if the winning doesn't come, then that's the way it goes."
For senior shortstop Debbie Shaw, who had a .441 batting average in league play, just making it to the championship game was enough.
"I wanted to win, but I didn't thing we'd make it that far," said Shaw, who was a standout guard on the basketball team. "I think it was great that we made it that far, but I wish we would have won it."
For Sanchez and his team there will be next year and another chance to try for that elusive championship.
It may have slipped by them twice this year, but Sanchez and his returning players are optimistic.
"The kids are hungry for challenges," said Sanchez. "We have some athletic status around here, and it's a positive thing. Next year we'll be good, now that they realize that the hard work pays off."