BURBANK — Early in its game Thursday against Burroughs High, it looked as if the Burbank softball team, behind ace pitcher Caitlyn Brooks, would pour it on against the Indians.
That scenario appeared evident after the Bulldogs scored five runs in the first three innings of their Pacific League contest against their cross-town rivals.
However, Burroughs pitcher Cheyenne Steward buckled down after some early problems, allowing no hits and just a single baserunner through the final four frames.
Unfortunately for the Indians, they just couldn't give their starting pitcher much run support, as the Bulldogs rode their early advantage to a 5-1 victory in front of an overflow crowd at Olive Park.
Thursday's clash was a battle of the Pacific's League's top teams. The win for the defending-champion Bulldogs (17-3, 8-0 in league) — ranked No. 4 in CIF Southern Section Division III — keeps them alone in first place. The Indians, ranked No. 8 in the division, fall to 14-5-1, 6-2.
"Our players came into the game loose, but they were focused," said first-year Burbank Coach Mike Delaney, whose squad has won 15 straight games. "This is the best prep we have had in probably three or four games. …They were just totally on it in warmups and they were ready to play.
"Nothing really fazes this team. I try and challenge them with new stuff in practice all the time, but they just go through it. Really, they are ready for anything."
Although the Indians outhit the Bulldogs, 8-6, it was Burbank that was able to string its hits together to score the runs.
"We made some mistakes and those were effort mistakes," Burroughs Coach Doug Nicol said. "I can live with mistakes like those. I feel that we made some mistakes, but if we can correct those mistakes next time against them it is going to be a lot closer.
"We got 10 runners on base and I thought that they did a good job against Caitlyn [Brooks]. We were just not able to string our hits together to get the runs that we needed."
Brooks went the distance to run her record to 16-3, striking out nine without a walk.
Steward also went seven innings, striking out three and walking one. After giving up two runs in the first inning and three in the third, she retired 14 of the final 15 batters she faced.
Along with her effort in the circle, Brooks also came through at the plate, going two for four with a home run, a run scored and two runs batted in.
"I try to focus on my hitting just as much as I do with my pitching," Brooks said. "I take hitting lessons and I take pride in my hitting. I just want to do all that I can to be a complete player."
Brooks did some damage at the plate early. In the top of the first inning, No. 2 batter Isabele Frias was hit by a pitch. Brooks then took a 2-0 Steward pitch and roped a sinking liner into right field. The Burroughs outfielder dove for the ball, but it skipped past her and Brooks was able to motor home for a two-run, inside-the-park home run.
The Indians got a run back in the second inning to trail by one, 2-1. Steward (two for three) led off the frame with a single through the left side and was replaced with pinch runner Brianna Devellano. The runner went to second after Aimee Rodriguez was hit by a pitch and took third on a sacrifice bunt. Devellano scored on an infield single by DJ Santos (two for three).
The Bulldogs were able to increase their lead to 5-1 with three runs in the third inning. Julia Duarte and Jazmin Orozco both singled to drive in runs and the other run came across on a sacrifice fly to left field by Kaitlin Brooks.
"It was huge that we were able to score runs early," Delaney said. "That helps out our team tremendously."
There was some controversy in the game on a play in the fifth inning. Burroughs baserunner Michelle Santiago was thrown out of the contest after she bowled over Burbank catcher Bridgette Pisa in a violent collision at the plate. Pisa held on to the ball for the third out of the inning. Santiago, the team's starting catcher, will miss Tuesday's league game against Crescenta Valley.
Follow Jeff Tully on Twitter: @jefftsports.