TORRANCE — It was a disastrous showing in the early going by the Burroughs High softball team in its CIF Southern Section Division III game Tuesday against South Torrance that proved to be its undoing.
Throughout the season, the Indians relied on solid defense, strong pitching and powerful hitting to notch the most wins in program history. However, in the first three innings against the host Spartans, the Indians had their problems in all three areas.
Struggling from the get-go, Burroughs found itself behind by seven runs early. Although the Indians were able to battle back in the late innings to make a game of it, the early deficit proved too difficult to erase, as No. 2 seeded Burroughs went down to a 7-4 defeat.
The win for the Spartans (21-10) — the fourth-place team from the Pioneer League — avenges a 2-0, 7-6, doubleheader sweep at the hands of the Indians in nonleague action March 15. South Torrance featured four players who have signed to play in college next year, namely senior leadoff hitter Alex Kossoff, who is headed to Florida State.
The loss ends a productive season that saw the Indians finish with a 24-4 record and notch the Pacific League championship, their third straight.
Burroughs Coach Doug Nicol said he was hard-pressed to come up with the reason why his team did not play its best during the first three innings.
"Our challenge is to try and figure out what went wrong and why we got off to such a bad start," said Nicol, whose team opened the playoffs Thursday with a 3-0 victory against Knight. "Whether it be the end of the school year or finals this week, we're going to have to figure out why it happened so it won't happen again.
"But they just looked tired and they didn't look like they were ready to go in the beginning. For whatever reason, they just didn't have it in the beginning and were doing things that are just uncharacteristic of how we usually play."
It was unfortunate for Burroughs that it had to battle the Spartans with a starting pitcher that wasn't at 100%. Nicol said that senior Haley Schulman was suffering from flu-like symptoms the day before and wasn't at her best. Schulman (17-4) got into trouble over the course of the first three innings, a span in which South Torrance scored all seven of its runs.
But the run cavalcade wasn't all Schulman's fault. The Burroughs defense committed three errors in the first inning, helping pave the way for two South Torrance runs. A two-run error in the third helped to lead to four more runs by the Spartans. Schulman did walk two and gave up two hits in a second inning in which the Spartans were able to push across a run.
"When we played them in that doubleheader early this season, Haley shut then down and she didn't give up a run in something like 10 total innings," Nicol said. "She was definitely off today. She said she was struggling with her pitches. She was having a hard time finding her location and she was having a hard time with her mechanics."
While Schulman and the Indians suffered their problems early on, South Torrance pitcher Carolyn Snodgress breezed through the first five innings, not surrendering a hit. Snodgress gave up five hits, struck out seven and walked one. She also induced 10 flyouts.
Snodgress successfully used her rise ball and continually got strikes by painting the outside of the plate.
"That's my bread and butter," Snodgress said about her outside pitch. "[The umpire] wasn't giving me that early on, but he did later in the game."
Schulman settled down after the first three innings, retiring six straight batters in the fifth and sixth.
"She's a good pitcher," South Torrance Coach Kevin Van Waardenburg said. "I have to give it to her. They had a great season and she was a big part of it."
Down, 7-0, the Indians bats finally came alive in the sixth inning. Michelle Santiago led off and legged out an infield single for the first hit off of Snodgress. With one out, Shannon Trujillo put a ball over the second baseman's glove for a single. Schulman followed and reached base on an error to account for Burroughs' first run. With two out, Davina Del Castillo tripled off the right-center field fence, plating Trujillo and Schulman.
The Indians tacked on a fourth run in the seventh when Sidney Ortega singled and was driven home on a double by Santiago. Santiago was two for three.
"I am very proud of the way our team fought to get back in this game in the late innings," Nicol said. "They could have just given up, but they stuck with it. We won innings four through seven; it's just that innings one through three were so bad that we just couldn't battle back from that."