City Section Playoffs
Tuesday, May 25
San Pedro 2, Carson 0
When it was over and the players had shaken hands and the tears were flowing, Carson Coach Joe Sponsler gave Ashley Esparza a good, long hug.
As in goodbye.
And good riddance.
Esparza has been a dominant force in Los Angeles City Section softball for four seasons, and on Tuesday at UCLA's Easton Stadium, she pitched San Pedro past Carson.
Esparza tossed a one-hitter with nine strikeouts in a 2-0 victory that gave San Pedro five consecutive victories over Carson in the section title game.
These teams, Marine League rivals who split two games earlier this season, have a lot of history together.
"It wouldn't have meant anything if we hadn't beaten Carson," said Esparza (20-1), who has been the winning pitcher in four consecutive title games. "We go back so far.
"You want to beat the good teams."
It was yet another disappointment for Carson in a championship game. The Colts have lost six in a row, falling to El Camino Real the last time San Pedro wasn't in the title game.
"We're the Buffalo Bills, and proud of it," Sponsler said, referring to the four-time Super Bowl bridesmaids. "Nobody's going to beat that record."
And it will be difficult for anyone to break the record San Pedro set, becoming the first team in City Section history to win five consecutive softball championships.
Tony Dobra, coach at San Pedro, said this one had a little more significance than the other six the Pirates won under his guidance, including 1995 and 1998.
"The fact we're the first to win five in a row and we made history, this one is pretty special," he said. "Someone is going to have to win six in a row to break it, and that's tough to do."
The Colts, ranked No. 19 by The Times, finished 28-9. San Pedro, ranked No. 11, finished 29-3.
It was a tough way for losing pitcher Danira Iolamo (16-7) to make an exit. She allowed only three hits in what turned out to be a game of inches.
All three hits came in the fourth inning. Two of them went off the gloves of defenders and the third - the one that drove in two runs - was a pop-up behind third base that landed about eight inches fair. It had so much spin off the bat of senior left-handed batter Nicole Serrato that it jumped sideways, allowing Nicole Castagnola to score from second base with the second run.
Stephanie Tam had led off the fourth inning with a one-hopper just off the top of the glove of leaping third baseman Liz Vasquez.
After one of Iolamo's 10 strikeouts and a force-out at second base that allowed Esparza to reach first, Castagnola singled up the middle off the backhand of second baseman Lolita Valdez to move pinch-runner Jessica Amador to third base and Castagnola to second.
"I didn't want it to bloop up, but I wanted the ball to go to left field," Serrato said of the outside pitch.
It was the second huge at-bat by Serrato in the playoffs. She delivered a sacrifice fly for the decisive run against Granada Hills in a 2-1 quarterfinal victory.
And two runs for Esparza was all she needed. Only once this season has she allowed more than one run in a game, and that came against Carson in a 3-2 loss in eight innings on April 15.
"Mentally, I think I got stronger," said Esparza, who retired the final 14 batters after allowing Christina Schalllig's fourth-inning single. "I was so nervous the whole game I was thinking about it all week. It was the biggest week ever."
It was big for everyone. And now, it's over. And there was good news for Carson. At least, those who are coming back next season.
Esparza will be gone.
"She's been a thorn in my side," Sponsler said. "I'm glad the thorn is out of my side."
Granada Hills Kennedy 11, L.A. Marshall 3