BURBANK — After reaching the CIF Southern Section Division VII softball championship games each of the last two seasons, Bellarmine-Jefferson High was moved up to Division VI, where it currently sits at No. 4 in the polls.
In addition, in the Guards' nonleague schedule contains no schools below Division V, and primarily schools from Division III. The tough schedule was made in an effort to gain experience for the squad.
That trend continued with Bell-Jeff hosting Division III Sherman Oaks Notre Dame on Tuesday Gross Park in the Guards' home opener. After dropping their first three games this season against squads from Division III, the Guards were on the cusp of breaking through before giving up five runs in the seventh inning and losing, 7-3.
"Bell-Jeff is always a great team," Notre Dame Coach Dana Vasquez said. "I mean, they have been in the CIF Division VII championship for the past couple years. They are a good team. It was just fighting hard all the way through. I was pleased with the outcome. I wasn't pleased it took us that long."
Bellarmine-Jefferson (1-4) scored a run in the sixth to pull ahead going into the final frame against the Knights, but then the wheels came off as the Guards were touched for five runs in the top of the seventh and then went in order in the bottom of the inning for a stinging defeat.
The six hits the Knights (7-3) got in the seventh off of pitcher Karina Hernandez equaled the amount of hits the senior hurler had surrendered in the game up to that point.
"We had the opportunity on a bunt to make a play. We called it and we didn't execute. That gave them an extra at-bat and that changed the whole game because now, instead of two outs, they had one," Bell-Jeff Coach Florencio Galindo said of the final inning swoon. "[Then Hernandez] missed a couple spots and [The Knights] executed and got some timely hits."
The game had been tied at 2 since the top of the second inning before the hosts snatched the lead with two outs in the sixth on a RBI-single by Monique Landini. The senior chopped a single up the middle that bounced over the second baseman's glove and into the outfield, allowing Tiffany Galindo to race home from second.
"I was just thinking make contact with the ball and put it in play," Landini said of her sixth inning hit that gave her team a short-lived advantage late.
The game started out strong for Bell-Jeff, which led, 2-0, after one. Hernandez sat down the Knights in order in the first on only six pitches.
Then, in the bottom of the inning, it took Notre Dame freshman pitcher Emily Waters seven pitches to get Galindo, the leadoff batter, out. After that, the next three Bell-Jeff batters reached base with the damage being done by Sofia Palacios. The junior hammered a double into the right-center field gap to drive in Landini and Cristina Colon.
The advantage however was short-lived, as Notre Dame tied the score in the top of the third on two hits and a Bell-Jeff infield error. Both teams had chances after that, but no one cashed in until Landini's go-ahead single in the sixth.
In total, Notre Dame stranded six runners and the Guards stranded nine, including leaving the bases juiced in the second.
"It was a nail-bitter," Coach Galindo said. "We were up, 3-2, in the last inning. We had opportunities a couple innings. We had the bases loaded. We flied out deep and they got under it. They caught it, so we couldn't break the game open. We took the lead into the seventh and we fell short. I think the pitcher ran out of gas."
Bell-Jeff will pick up the pieces and move on to play at Calvary Chapel, who is ranked No. 3 in Division V, before following that contest with three more schools from Division III.