MCCAMBRIDGE PARK — In a colossal showdown that pitted the area’s, the Pacific League’s and CIF Southern Section Division III’s best softball teams, it was a game that lived up to the hype.
And, fittingly, it was a game that came down to the best against the best.
In the top of the seventh inning of a scoreless stalemate, Crescenta Valley High standout slugger Baillie Kirker stepped into the batter’s box to face Burbank ace Kristin Peraza.
What followed was a dramatic nine-pitch at-bat that ended with Kirker pulling a double to the left-field fence, leading to the only run of Crescenta Valley’s 1-0 league triumph against the Bulldogs at McCambridge Park.
“I love being put in that situation,” said Kirker, the 2006 All-Area Player of the Year, who had two of her team’s four hits and its only walk in three plate appearances. “I like having that pressure on me.”
The lead-off hit wasn’t the end of the drama, though.
“It was a nailbiter for the entire time,” said Burbank first-year Coach Nicole Drabecki.
Kali Cancelosi, Peraza’s counterpart in the circle, followed with a grounder to short that held up Kirker before she moved to third on the throw.
Then up stepped Caitlyn Cox. Cox chopped a grounder to second base and Kirker didn’t hesitate.
“Coach [Dan Berry] just said if you can go, go,” said Kirker of her instructions on the bases. “Thank God Caitlyn came in with the high chopper. It was definitely what we needed.”
Peraza stranded the third Falcons runner of the game to end the inning and the pressure fell upon Cancelosi’s shoulders.
The first pitch of the bottom of the inning was delivered deep to straight-away center by Megan Schafer, but Falcons center fielder Stephanie Ziemann showed off her range, tracking it down just as she would the last out of the game — another deep fly ball to center by Peraza.
“That outfield today earned their keep,” said Berry, whose outfielders had eight putouts as part of an errorless defensive effort. “Our kids did a great job, that’s what the game is about.”
With the win, Crescenta Valley (23-0, 11-0 in league) can clinch a share of the league title with a victory at Muir on Friday and give Berry his 500th coaching win.
The Falcons, the top-ranked squad in Division III, have given Burbank (19-2, 9-2) its only two losses of the season. Wednesday’s setback broke a seven-game win streak for the Bulldogs, ranked second.
“Since the [first] loss, that was really disappointing, we wanted to come and show we’re a better team than that,” said Drabecki in reference to her team’s 5-3 loss to CV on April 8.
Peraza (19-2) certainly bettered her performance, striking out nine and allowing just four hits — three of them coming against the last two All-Area players of the year, as Ashleigh Viers-Gordillo led off the game with a double.
“Kristin is a great pitcher,” Kirker said. “I think [the first loss] gave her the will to want it more.”
Cancelosi (13-0) matched Peraza inning for inning, though.
“It took her a while to find it, but she found it,” Kirker said. “All around, everyone did a great job.”
Both hurlers found early trouble.
Viers-Gordillo’s double was followed by a one-out Kirker walk, but Burbank third baseman Daisy Beltran, who had two hits, turned the first of two Bulldogs inning-ending double plays.
A two-out walk by Kristina Ortiz and an ensuing single from Melissa Sanchez saw the Bulldogs threaten in their half of the first. Both runners moved into scoring position with stolen bases, as well, but Cancelosi induced an inning-ending groundout.
The first inning was the last time either team would put multiple runners on base until the Falcons seventh, however.
For the undefeated Falcons, it was the first time all year they won by a single run. Hence, Drabecki feels good about her team’s chances come playoff time.
“This is a great game for us to prepare for playoffs,” Drabecki said. “In my opinion, that’s the team to beat to win a [CIF] championship, and that’s what we want is a third rematch [in the playoffs].”
Added Berry: “This is against a very good team — it says something about our team and our desire.”