Oaks Christian Loses Its Grip, 4-3

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Oaks Christian High was two outs from winning the Southern Section Division VI softball championship in its first varsity season.

With a roster composed of freshmen and sophomores, the top-seeded Lions led, 3-1, in the seventh inning Friday night at Barber Memorial Park in Irvine, but third-seeded Linfield rallied to win, 4-3, in 10 innings.

Valerie Alston's run-scoring triple gave Linfield its sixth Section title and first since 1997.

Ashlee Freeman of Oaks Christian chose to pitch to Kathy Fiske, a .540 hitter, rather than walk her intentionally with runners on second and third in the seventh.

"My coach [Peter Ackermann] asked me if I wanted to pitch to her and I said yes," said Freeman, who did not intentionally walk a batter all season. "I wanted to try to get her out and I had her. I just made a bad pitch and she capitalized on it.

"I question now whether or not I should've done that, but if I had to do it over I'd make the same decision."

Fiske hit a grounder to deep shortstop and beat Katie Lorier's throw to first, scoring Stephanie McKay.

Deanna Neal grounded back to Freeman, who threw to first baseman Katie Clausen for an out. Clausen threw home, but Becky Shampay slid under Shannon Van Vorst's tag to tie the score.

In the bottom of the 10th, Neal hit a pop fly to second that was dropped by Tiffany Day-Neutil, setting the stage for Alston's game-winning drive down the left-field line.

"She was throwing me outside all game, so I figured if she was going to do that I might as well go with it," Alston said. "When I saw the ball drop, I knew Deanna [Neal] would score because she's the fastest player on our team."

Freeman, who pitched all but two innings for the Lions this season, had 14 strikeouts, increasing her total to 428 in 222 innings.

But she was called for six illegal pitches, the first of which led to Linfield's first run.

"I'd only been called for one illegal pitch all year and all of a sudden they call six?" said Freeman, a transfer from Chaminade. "It doesn't make any sense. The umpire was claiming that I was planting my foot in front of the rubber, but I pitched in the last three innings as I did in the first three and they didn't call it a single time."

Oaks Christian (26-5-2) took a 2-1 lead in the third on Lorier's run-scoring single and Sunday Tsai hit a run-scoring single in the sixth.

Day-Neutil led off the game with a double and scored on Lorier's line drive off third baseman Teri Hinebaugh's glove.

Linfield (22-4-1) answered in its half on a run-scoring single by Natalie Fox.

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