GROSS PARK — With a swing of a 15-year-old freshman’s bat, the Bellarmine-Jefferson High softball team made history.
The CIF Southern Section Division VII semifinal playoff game between the Guards and visiting Rolling Hills Prep was tied at 4 in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Center fielder Jaylen Watson stepped to the plate after teammate Monique Landini doubled to left field with one out. Watson connected on an offering from Rolling Hills pitcher Jessica Pasco, sending the ball over the head of retreating left-fielder Bianca Malkoc.
Landini rounded third base and stamped home plate, completing a 5-4 comeback win, sending Bell-Jeff to its first-ever CIF championship softball game.
“Nobody knew who Bell-Jeff was,” Guards Coach John Castaneda said. “Hopefully, they kind of know where it’s at now.”
“It’s really something special,” Watson said of playing for a CIF championship. “Usually people say it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Watson’s walk-off effort was her lone hit of the game. “My coach just told me to relax and not think about anything,” she said.
“She hit it a mile high in the air,” Castaneda said.
Freshman first baseman Tina Colon anxiously watched from the dugout as Watson went to work during the final at-bat.
“I wanted to hit,” Colon said. “but I knew she’s a really good hitter and there was no doubt in my that she wasn’t going to hit it.”
The Guards advanced to play Pomona Catholic (23-5), which defeated Faith Baptist, 17-0, Tuesday in the other Division VII semifinal game. The championship game will be Friday or Saturday at Deanna Manning Stadium in Irvine with the game time is to be determined.
Bell-Jeff freshman Krystal Ordonez led off the bottom of the seventh inning with a single to left field, but the ball got by Malkoc, allowing Ordonez to round the bases and even the score, 4-4.
“Krystal got us going with that homerun,” Watson said.
“As long as we still have three outs, don’t count us out,” Castaneda said, but added, “The stomach was in knots.”
The Guards (22-5) were an out away from ending the contest in the top of the seventh, but the Huskies responded with a two out, two-run rally, going up 4-3, their first lead of the game.
The No. 2 Guards — the Santa Cruz League champion — will face a tough team in No. 1 Pomona Catholic — the Arrowhead League champion.
The Pacers come into the title game on a 14-game winning streak, with all of those victories coming by way of shutout. During the streak, Pomona Catholic has outscored its opponents a whopping, 234-0 — including beating three playoff opponents, 81-0.
The last time the Pacers dropped a game was April 6 when they fell to West Covina, 2-1.
“They’re a very good team,” Castaneda said. “They didn’t get here by accident. It wasn’t a fluke. I believed it was just a matter of time.”
With a runner on second, Guards’ freshman pitcher Amanda Maalouf faced Nicole Enciso, who ripped an off-speed pitch to right field on a full count with two outs.
“We pride ourselves on going against the grain,” Castaneda said of calling the change-up. “There’s probably about 10 coaches out here who probably said, ‘Let’s throw it outside.’ [Enciso] won that battle.”
The ball bounced just in front of right fielder Panizo, who tried to make a play on it.
“We made a mistake on a play,” Castaneda said. “It was just a misjudged ball. It should’ve been game over there — but it wasn’t.”
Katelyn Marquez scored for Rolling Hills, and as the Guards had difficulty fielding the ball, Enciso managed to run the bases and score.
Enciso hit another two-run home run in the top of the fifth inning, finishing with four runs batted in.
Bell-Jeff took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning when Colon singled to right field with the bases loaded. She struck again in the third inning with another RBI-single to right field, which put the Guards up, 3-0.
Jackie Pons pitched five and 2/3 innings for Bell-Jeff, giving up seven hits, two runs, three walks while striking out three.
Pasco finished with eight hits, five runs, five walks and two strikeouts in six and one-third innings pitched.