Three consecutive pitches, five years of frustration.
When it comes to anguish in City Section softball, no one knows it better than Carson.
For the fifth year in a row, the Colts reached the City Championship final only to lose. The last four have been to San Pedro.
This time, Ashley Esparza drove home Nicole Castagnola in the ninth inning to give the top-seeded Pirates a 1-0 victory Tuesday at UCLA.
San Pedro (30-1), ranked No. 13 in the Southland by The Times, shared the Marine League title with No. 25 Carson (26-6) but won three of their four games this season. Carson won the last outing, 3-0, as Esparza (23-1) gave up a career-high nine hits.
This time, Esparza pitched a two-hitter -- matching her performance in last year’s championship -- and struck out seven. Still, Danira Iolamo (15-3) seemed more dominant, striking out 11 and retiring 19 in a row from the first inning to the eighth.
Then came the pivotal three pitches in the ninth.
Castagnola, down no balls and two strikes in the count, grounded sharply to left field. Next pitch, Castagnola was safe at second on Stephanie Tam’s bunt to third base.
Next pitch, Esparza drilled the ball down the right-field line.
“It looked like it was going to take off the first baseman’s head,” Castagnola said. “She hit it so hard.”
It was Esparza’s 23rd RBI, and left Carson Coach Joe Sponsler at a loss -- again.
“I absolutely don’t know what it is,” he said. “Every time we play them, it comes down to a hit here, a hit there, one pitch.”
Or three pitches, which negated the brilliance of Iolamo’s five-hitter.
Esparza, who walked one, didn’t allow a hit until Christina Schallig’s two-out double in the sixth.
“What it comes down to,” Sponsler said, “is being clutch when you need to be clutch.”
-- Martin Henderson
Santa Ana Foothill 2, Riverside Poly 1 -- The Knights continued to prove they aren’t the same team that struggled to a 6-11 record. Foothill (18-12) won for the 12th time in the last 13 games with the Division I second-round victory, getting three leadoff singles from Caitlin Lowe, two of which led to two-out RBI singles by Rishelle Gastelum.
Pitcher Sarah LaRue kept the visiting Bears on their heels with a steady mix of changeups and drops. She scattered five hits and allowed no earned runs.
Throw in several sterling defensive plays from the infield and the Knights looked like the team ranked No. 4 in the preseason by The Times.
“We started out rocky,” Foothill Coach Joe Gonzalez said. “But our first playoff game was the first time this season we had all 21 players.”
Second baseman Whitney Radcliffe, who had been out with a broken arm, returned in Foothill’s first-round 6-3 victory Friday against Anaheim Esperanza. The Knights recently welcomed back third-baseman Paige Lowe, who missed about 18 months because of a back injury.
Riverside Poly (21-7) scored on a throwing error in the seventh.
-- Dan Arritt
Camarillo 5, Newhall Hart 0 -- Krystle Chamberlain, who has stolen 21 bases this season, increased her career total to a Southern Section record 150 with three more and wreaked havoc on a Hart defense that committed three errors trying to throw out the fleet senior leadoff hitter in a Division I second-round game at Camarillo.
In the third, Chamberlain reached base on an error, stole second, went to third on a passed ball and scored on a single by Cambria Miranda. Chamberlain also sparked a four-run sixth, singling home Michelle Calderon, then stealing second and scoring when the catcher’s throw went into center field.
Miranda, pitcher Stephanie Byrne and Melanie Douglas each had two hits for No. 16 Camarillo (23-6), which had nine hits and benefited from three walks, a hit batter, four errors and two wild pitches.
The Scorpions will meet Los Alamitos (23-10) on Thursday in a quarterfinal at a site to be determined.
No. 14 Hart (21-9) had four hits, two by Amy Pidancet.
-- Dave Desmond