Ask any softball coach from the Surf League, and they would tell you that the nine-game league slate was nothing short of a full-scale battle.
It required guts, preparation and tactical efficiency.
At the end, the Surf League still failed to produce an outright champion.
Ali Belarde hit an inside-the-park grand slam in the top of the fourth inning, and visiting Los Alamitos defeated Marina 6-3 on Tuesday to earn a share of the league crown with the Vikings.
“We were going crazy,” Griffins starting pitcher Sarah Ladd said of watching Belarde circle the bases. “We were like, ‘Oh my gosh, Ali. Just keep going.’
“We were trying to get as many runs as we can, so it was just a great game.”
The Griffins won their fifth straight league title, the previous four in the Sunset League, while the Vikings won a share of first for the first time since 2014.
Marina (16-8, 5-4 in league), the pace-setter from day one, was unable to slam the door shut. The Vikings lost home games to Huntington Beach (14-8, 4-5) and Los Alamitos (18-8, 5-4) in the final two weeks of the season as they tried to clinch first place by themselves.
Going into the day, a scenario existed in which there could have been a three-way tie for first place. Edison edged Huntington Beach 1-0 on a walk-off walk by Alyssa Reynolds in the bottom of the seventh on Tuesday, giving Marina one of the league’s automatic bids.
Marina athletic director Michelle Spencer said that the Vikings will go into the CIF Southern Section Division 2 playoffs as the No. 1 entry out of the Surf League, as the Griffins reside in Division 1.
Griffins coach Rob Weil was a proponent of the Surf League, saying that it offered “no wiggle room.” He added that his team has a tendency to get up for big games, and Tuesday’s performance was a testament to that.
Ladd struck out eight in a complete-game outing. After issuing a walk to Haylee Orozco with the bases loaded in the first inning, she settled in to allow just three hits over the next five innings.
“I thought it was gutsy,” Weil said of Ladd’s start. “I thought she hit her spots in key situations. She gave up a couple of 1-2 and 0-2 hits that I wasn’t real happy about, but when she had to buckle down, she made some big pitches.”
Marina’s Emily Rush, on the other hand, did not have her usual command. She walked seven and hit two batters. Outside of the Belarde inside-the-park grand slam, Rush did a remarkable job of limiting the damage.
In the second inning, Rush faced a bases-loaded, no-out situation. She struck out Kennedi Houshmandzadeh before starting a double play on Julianne Ronquillo’s comebacker to the pitching circle.
Emma Sellers and Belarde each had two hits for the Griffins.
Vikings co-coach Shelly Luth also said she was in favor of the Surf League after completing the first full season under the new format.
“I love it,” Luth said. “I love the competition. I love that you can’t miss anything. You can’t leave one stone unturned. Not pushing a runner [over], leaving runners on will cost you in this league because everyone is good. Every single team is good.”
Marina had only two seniors — shortstop Nicole Logrecco and first baseman Shayla Thomas — this season. They had their moments in their final regular season home game.
Logrecco led off the bottom of the first inning with a double to center field, and she scored the first run of the game.
Thomas reached base three times. She doubled to lead off the third inning, and she blasted a two-run home run off the scoreboard behind the left-field fence in the seventh inning.
“Bottom of the seventh, we were honestly just trying to put together something,” Thomas said. “Right before I went up to bat, it kind of clicked where I was like, ‘Wow, this is actually my last at-bat at Marina High School.’