LA CRESCENTA — Over the course of the regular season, the Crescenta Valley High softball team gained its fearsome reputation more through slugging its way to lopsided victories than from the spotless pitching and defensive efforts that often accompanied those blowouts.
On Tuesday, the value of the Falcons’ pitching and fielding was magnified in a game that remained close until the vaunted lineup was able to break a tie with a four-run rally in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Paced by a three-hit complete-game effort from hurler Heather Bacon and a key tie-breaking double by catcher Baillie Kirker, Crescenta Valley continued its unbeaten season with a 6-2 home win over Highland in the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division III playoffs.
“Our team is definitely capable of scoring the runs when we need to,” said Kirker, who has hit 18 home runs this season — the second-highest mark in the state. “[Highland’s] pitcher was on, but so was Heather. It was a battle between them, but we jumped on her mistakes, more than they jumped on ours.”
The two teams’ mistakes, as well as their accomplishments, had essentially evened out over the first 4 1/2 innings, as the Falcons (28-0) took their fifth-inning at bats facing a 2-2 tie.
With one out, first baseman Ashleigh Viers-Gordillo lined a double into the gap in right-center field.
Kirker then rolled a sharp ground ball all the way to the fence in left field for a double to plate Viers-Gordillo, but the Falcons weren’t done there.
Kali Cancelosi smoked a ball that looked to be headed through the left side of the infield, but it was knocked down to save a run and hold Cancelosi (two for three with two runs batted in) to an infield single.
There was no such luck for the Bulldogs (18-8) on ensuing batter Caitlyn Cox’s single to center field, which scored courtesy runner Jaimie Amit for a 4-2 lead.
Stephanie Ziemann, who went two for three with two RBIs and a stolen base, then provided some extra insurance with a two-run single.
“I felt fine, [being tied] is not that big of a deal,” Bacon said. “If we’re close, I know we’re going to come back and win.”
There was little offense on either side over the first three frames, as Bacon carried a perfect-game bid into the fifth inning and the Bulldogs’ Aryn Feickart allowed just one baserunner going into the bottom of the third.
It was then that the Falcons struck first, taking a 2-0 lead on a two-out bloop single to center field by Cancelosi that drove in Zarah Montes and Alyssa Sovereign.
The lead held up until the top of the fifth inning, which began with a leadoff double by Olivia Pace.
When Mindy Greenwalt put a swinging bunt in play, Bacon fielded the ball, but hesitated a bit too long after checking Pace at second base and couldn’t throw Greenwalt out at first.
“No, not really,” Bacon said when asked if losing the perfect game threw her off. “Maybe I didn’t pitch that one pitch [to Pace] as hard as I should have, but then I think I kind of came back and I felt better about it.”
Bacon got out of the inning with two of her nine strikeouts, but not before Highland scored one run on a double steal with runners on first and third, and a second run on a two-out single by Alexis Candelaria.
“We had a little mental hiccup in that inning, but the score was tied 2-2 only briefly and they come back with four runs,” Berry said. “That tells you something about the quality of [our] team.”
The Falcons defense, which was solid throughout, closed out the game with a 4-3 double play to end the sixth inning and a 9-3 putout to end the game.
Crescenta Valley will next play host Santa Monica (23-8), champion of the Ocean League, in the quarterfinal round at 3:15 p.m. on Thursday at a site to be determined.