INGLEWOOD — Until the offensive thunder finally broke in the later innings, the Bellarmine-Jefferson High softball team was getting by just fine on the lightning bolts flung by the arm of Mel Acosta.
Backed by a one-run lead before she took the circle, the sophomore pitcher held Animo Leadership in check for six innings, combining with Amanda Maalouf on a seven-inning no-hitter, to propel the Guards into the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division VI playoffs with a 16-0 win at Edward Vincent Park.
"Mia's phenomenal," Guards Coach Florencio Galindo said of Acosta, who struck out nine and walked two and also got it done in the batter's box, going three for five with four runs batted in. "Our pitching's always going to keep us in it, and our defense, but you've got to score runs."
At first that was a gradual process for the Guards, who scored 11 runs over the sixth and seven innings combined.
Bell-Jeff (21-5-2) pushed one across in the top of the first, aided by two Aztec Eagles errors and upped the margin to 2-0 in the third when Monique Landini doubled with two outs to plate Priscilla Panizo, who had singled.
"Usually our pitching carries us, so we have nothing to worry about," said Landini, who went two for four with a walk and four RBI. "That's a good thing."
The lead doubled in the fourth when Sofia Palacios led off with a double and scored along with Jaylen Watson, who had reached on an error, courtesy of a single by Samantha Casarez with no outs. The Guards would tack on an extra run later in the inning on a sacrifice fly, but saved most of the damage for the last two frames.
Karina Hernandez grounded into a fielder's choice for the second out of the sixth inning, but the Guards would go on to mount an extensive two-out rally.
Maalouf reached on an error to put runners at the corners and the bases were soon loaded after a walk to Panizo. Landini's double drove in a pair to make it 7-0 and Acosta followed with a triple to deep right-center field to plate two more and make it 9-0 before scoring on a error one batter later.
"First we started off a little slow, but we just made adjustments on it and it came around," Landini said. "We can always count on our offense."
Things further unraveled for Animo (7-10) in the top of the seventh when the bases were loaded with no outs on a single by Casarez (two for four) and consecutive walks to Alexis Lopez and Hernandez. The next two batters, Rebecca Pereyra and Panizo, both grounded to shortstop, but in each case an attempt to record an out at home resulted in run-scoring errors.
A bases-loaded walk to Landini made it 13-0, and Acosta then slapped a single to left field that scored two more.
"It was a slow start, but by the end, we knocked down the tree little by little," said Galindo, whose team will next host Bloomington Christian on Thursday at 3:15 p.m. "Eventually it opened up. ...It took us a while to open it up, but a win's a win."