COSTA MESA — When the class of 2011 first stepped on the softball field at Costa Mesa High, the Mustangs were in a playoff rut.
At the time they hadn't made the playoffs since 2003. But on the same softball field Wednesday stood four seniors — pitcher Tamy Cerrato, shortstop Alex Krohnfeldt, second baseman Sami Feinstein and outfielder Nikki Lether — who had grown up in the program.
Cerrato, Krohnfeldt, Feinstein and Lether all started in that freshman year of 2008. Wednesday marked the third straight year they helped the Mustangs make the playoffs.
They again fell short, however, of making history.
The Mustangs have not won a CIF playoff game in program history. Mesa was one and done yet again after suffering a 15-7 loss to Immaculate Heart of Los Angeles in Tuesday's CIF Southern Section Division V wild-card game. But the strong senior class — also including catcher Alosina Skipps, third baseman Itzel Flores, Sara Torrenueva, Marie Valenzuela and Andrea Valle — could hold its collective head high.
Second-year Coach Nichole Maddox noted how her team had rebounded from a 2-13 start to claim the third playoff spot out of the Orange Coast League. She can thank that senior class for much of that resolve.
"It kind of hasn't sunk in yet," Krohnfeldt said after her standout prep career drew to a close. "I'm sure tomorrow when we don't come to softball, it'll be like, 'What are we supposed to do now?' … I was nervous [before league started]. I thought senior year was just going down the drain, but we really came together as a team and started to bond more. There's nine seniors and we've been together for at least three years, but during the middle of preseason we became more of a team, more close-knit than we had been."
The Mustangs (8-17) fell behind early in the wild-card game. The visiting Pandas (14-10) took a 10-1 lead after scoring seven runs in the second inning. The highlight was a towering three-run home run to left by sophomore pitcher Jessica Osnaya.
The Mustangs did rally. They scored three runs in the bottom of the third, the big hit being Skipps' triple to right that scored Feinstein and Krohnfeldt. That narrowed the deficit to 10-5.
But Osnaya, who Immaculate Heart Coach Claire Rietmann-Grout said was hurt for much of the year, wasn't done. She again clobbered the first pitch she saw in the top of the sixth, connecting for her fifth home run of the season — a two-run shot — to left-center.
The second blast put the visitors back up by 10 runs, 15-5. Not bad for an at-large team making what Rietmann-Grout said was its first playoff appearance in at least 15 years. In contrast to Costa Mesa the Pandas are young, starting just two seniors and one junior.
"On Monday I thought our season was over, then I got a phone call at 12:30 [p.m.] saying that we had a game," Rietmann-Grout said. "We thought our season was over. I had already given out flowers and given out hugs, saying 'I'm proud of you' and everything. But my team has fight and they're scrappy — and naïve — but that's going to help us. I'm very proud of them. It's my second year coaching, and what we've accomplished in two years is pretty amazing. It's because they work hard, their work ethic."
Maddox, also in her second year, wasn't surprised her team battled back from the early deficit either.
"They worked hard this season," she said of the Mustangs. "It's just hard that you end a season losing by eight runs … Losing in a wild-card game is never the way you want to finish your season. But I am proud, because they worked hard to get here. We weren't in the best spot to begin with, as far as our record is concerned. We fought it out in league, and they hung in there the whole time."
Krohnfeldt had an RBI double in the sixth to score Flores. Cerrato was two for three for the Mustangs, who had Flores, Molly Settles and Lether add hits.
Immaculate Heart moves on to play at Arroyo of El Monte in Thursday's first round.
CIF Southern Section Division V Playoffs
Immaculate Heart 15, Costa Mesa 7
SCORE BY INNINGS
IH 271 032 0 — 15 14 3
CM 104 002 0 — 7 8 2
Osnaya and Brophy; Cerrato and Skipps. W – Osnaya, 8-6. L – Cerrato, 6-11. 2B – Cornelius (IH), Brophy (IH), Krohnfeldt (CM). 3B – Skipps (CM). HR – Osnaya (IH) 2.