IRVINE — It's a cliche that the Bellarmine-Jefferson High softball team hoped it wouldn't have to use. However, it's one the team has used for two seasons in a row.
"Wait 'til next year" is about the only solace many of the Guards could draw from after Bell-Jeff fell for the second straight year — to the same opponent — in the CIF Southern Section Division VII championship game. It is also an edict that the players hoped would lessen the sting of the loss.
The Guards were denied the program's first CIF title Friday when they were defeated, 1-0, on a perfect game by Pomona Catholic pitcher Amber Padilla at Deanna Manning Stadium in Irvine.
In the 2011 championship game, Bell-Jeff lost to the Pacers, 7-6.
Despite the defeat, the Guards can take come comfort that they will lose no seniors to graduation. On top of that, the team also fielded just two juniors this season.
"We still have next year, and probably the year after," Bell-Jeff sophomore center fielder Jalen Watson said. "But I feel bad for our older players. We really wanted to win it this year for them.
"It hurts to lose, yes. But we have some more chances and we have to take advantage of that."
Bell-Jeff shortstop Monique Landini had a fine defensive game against the Pacers (27-7), including a diving stop that saved a run in the seventh inning. Landini, a junior, hopes to get another shot at a CIF crown next year. However, the fact the team missed two chances in consecutive years is disheartening.
"I think this one hurts more than the loss last year," she said. "We thought we had a chance to win it this year because we had been so successful in the playoffs up 'til now. It's a blessing to be able to get here, but to lose by one run is really hard. To have it be so close two years in a row is tough."
The Guards (23-6-2) did put together the most successful season in school history in terms of victories. The team also captured its third straight Santa Cruz League championship and outscored its opponents, 56-0, in four playoff victories.
The Guards were attempting to win the third CIF title in the school's 68-year history. The Guards girls' basketball team captured championships in 1997 and 2009.
It was also the third time in 37 years that a team from the city was able to make it to a softball championship. Burbank High won a 3-A crown in 1975, which serves as the area's lone CIF softball title.
In convincing fashion, Bell-Jeff sophomore Tiffany Galindo thinks the Guards could break through and win that elusive championship in 2013.
"We're going to come back next year; bigger, better, stronger," she said. "I know we can do it. We saw them on the other side celebrating, and we're going to be the team doing the celebrating next year."