Over the past two seasons, Huntington Beach High’s softball team has experienced some of the most excruciating ways to see a season end.
Last year, the Oilers had the tying run at third base with less than two outs and failed to get the run home in their playoff opener against West Covina South Hills.
At top-seeded Norco in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 quarterfinals on Thursday, the Oilers mounted a late-inning comeback, only to feel as though they had the game taken away from them.
In the top of the ninth inning, Huntington Beach’s Shelbi Ortiz slid into home and was deemed safe via the obstruction rule. An umpires’ conference resulted in the call being reversed.
The first two batters reached for Norco in the bottom half of the inning, and University of Oklahoma-committed catcher Kinzie Hansen laced a double to right-center field to give the Cougars a 6-5 walk-off victory.
And just like that the Oilers’ first quarterfinal appearance in school history ended in dramatic fashion.
After the Cougars struck for the winning run, the focus fell squarely on the reversed obstruction call. Huntington Beach coach Jeff Forsberg said Hansen received the throw from shortstop Mikayla Allee while standing in the base line.
“[The umpire] said [Hansen] had the ball and was waiting for [Ortiz] to get to the plate,” Forsberg said. “She didn’t have the ball, and she was blocking the plate.
“It’s what’s wrong with softball. Every play is an obstruction play. The umpires are obstruction happy. They call the play, and then I think they got intimidated because the umpires were bad all game long. The next thing you know, they cracked and changed their mind.”
Norco coach Richard Robinson disagreed, but he also saw room for the call to go either way.
“In my opinion, she had the ball in time,” he said. “Once she had the ball, the lane is hers. I didn’t see it as obstruction, so of course, in this tight of a game, I’m going to ask.
“If it had been reversed, if I was in the third-base coaching box, I probably would have asked the other way. It was that close of a play.”
That close play helped the Cougars (26-3) advance to the semifinals. They will be at Hacienda Heights Los Altos on Tuesday. The Conquerors (29-2) defeated Temecula Great Oak 2-0 in the quarterfinals on Thursday.
“It’s about the team and finishing our business,” Hansen said of her team hoping to return to the Division 1 final after losing to Los Alamitos last year. “It’s unfinished business. That’s all we’ve got to do is finish it. We’re making it this year.”
It seemed like the Cougars would easily reach the semifinals.
The Oilers (21-8), who shared the Sunset League title with Los Alamitos this year, trailed 5-1 after Paige Smith’s run-scoring triple and the third run batted in by Sierra Marshall on a sacrifice fly in the fifth.
Huntington Beach got two runs back when Malia Cockrell tripled to straightaway center field in the sixth.
“I knew that if I could help my team out by getting this hit, then we’ll start a big rally and we’ll come back,” Cockrell said. “We did, so that was the cool part.”
In the seventh, Megan Ryono was hit by a pitch to lead off the frame. Down to their last strike, the Oilers got help when Devyn Greer’s ground ball went under the glove of Smith at third.
Allee Bunker dropped a single into right field, and Kelli Kufta grounded a single through the left side of the infield to tie up the game.
“There were definitely a couple times in the dugout where I was like, ‘This might be my last game,’” said Kufta, who is bound for UC San Diego. “I didn’t want that to happen, so it was just giving it our all in the dugout cheering. Everyone was yelling and on the fence, and I think that really helped us on offense.”