When you start a softball program at a new high school with only freshmen and sophomores, reaching the Southern Section championship game is not a reasonable expectation.
Peter Ackermann of Oaks Christian High in Westlake Village knows this first-hand.
"My biggest concern was getting enough girls to come out and play," Ackermann said.
Would the Lions compete at the varsity or junior varsity level? Could Ackermann find about 20 opponents with an opening in their schedule and willing to play a fledgling start-up squad? Would the three first-time players ever figure out which hand to place their glove?
These were questions Ackermann tackled. One at a time.
But, against all odds, Oaks Christian (26-4-2) is playing tonight at 5 for the school's first section title in any sport. The Lions face Temecula Linfield in the Division VI championship game at Barber Memorial Park in Irvine.
Linfield (21-4-1), the opposite of Oaks Christian, is making its seventh final appearance in nine years and playing for its sixth title.
"We've never been there before and we don't even know where we've been," Ackermann joked. "And maybe that's why the team is playing so well."
But Linfield Coach Scott Raftery isn't falling for Ackermann's golly-gee antics.
Raftery knows that his experienced lineup led by five seniors has its work cut out against Ashlee Freeman, perhaps the best pitcher in the division.
"[Freeman] is a stud," Raftery said. "Anybody that strikes out two batters an inning is pretty darn good. I'm banking on our experience to level the playing field a little bit."
Freeman (26-4) has struck out a region-record 414 batters in 212 innings and leads the team in nearly every offensive category, including a .538 batting average and 32 runs batted in.
"When Ashlee Freeman transferred in [from Chaminade], I knew we would have a better-than-average softball team," said Jan Hethcock, athletic director.
"[But] I fully did not expect that we would be in the finals of Division VI, ranked No. 1 in Division VI and No. 1 in the state in Division V."