LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — Heading into the current Prep League softball season, reigning league titlist Mayfield was the prohibitive favorite to reign once more.
Though there's still plenty of league games on the docket, after Tuesday, Flintridge Prep has clearly established itself out of the gates as the team to beat in the Prep League.
On the strength of an outstanding performance in the circle from Denise van der Goot and a walk-off single in the bottom of the seventh inning by Kelly Wang, the Rebels edged the Cubs, 2-1, at Flintridge Prep.
"We were able to kinda just out-battle them," said Rebels Coach Julie Jaime of beating Mayfield to improve to 6-2 overall and 3-0 in league as the only undefeated league squad. "It's huge. Just to have, if nothing less, that cushion [in the standings is key]."
Despite a rash of base-running miscues, the Rebels loaded the bases with one out when Wang came to the plate.
"I tried to wipe away all the stress and the pressure," said Wang, who had gone 0 for two with a walk in her previous three plate appearances. "Luckily, there weren't two outs — that made it a lot less stressful."
On a 1-1 count, Wang belted a line drive to left field that scored pinch-hitter Maya Okamoto, who scored just ahead of the tag for the win.
Mayfield, which won the last two league crowns, slipped to 4-7 and 1-2 in league despite the efforts of senior pitcher Katherine Clancy, who engaged van der Goot in a spirited battle in the circle.
Van der Goot finished with 13 strikeouts to no walks, while allowing just two hits.
"It was a great pitchers' duel," Jaime said. "Both pitchers did a great job.
"[van der Goot] stayed solid throughout."
Through the first three innings, van der Goot was perfect, using just eight pitches to retire the side in the first. At one point during that span, she retired seven straight via strikeout.
With one out in the fourth, Mayfield's Lauren Armenta put down a bunt for a single. Armenta then stole second and took third on a passed ball. Mireya Hernandez then lifted a one-out single to center field that scored Armenta for a 1-0 lead.
Armenta's bunt single and subsequent hindrance on the bases proved to be a bit of a distraction for van der Goot.
"I think it was a tiny bit," van der Goot said. "Afterwards, I just shook it off."
Indeed she did, as van der Goot retired the last 11 batters she faced in order.
"I just try and let it go and focus," van der Goot said.
While not as dominant as van der Goot, Clancy was just as affective through six innings as her counterpart.
Prep quickly answered Mayfield's score with the equalizer, as Abbey Deckop's grounder to shortstop to lead off the bottom of the fourth was mishandled to allow her to reach first and then skipped past the first baseman to allow her to take second — where she ran into second standing, just ahead of the tag. It was actually a foreshadowing of events to come, as Prep displayed some dangerous base running that it was fortunate to not have disrupted its path to victory.
After Deckop took third on a wild pitch, Rachel Simon, who went two for two with a walk, lined a single to scored Deckop and tie the game.
Despite singles from Drew Montgomery and Deckop in the fifth and sixth innings, respectively, Prep couldn't put multiple hits together in an inning against Clancy until the seventh. Clancy finished with seven strikeouts, seven hits allowed and two walks.
Simon drew a walk to lead off the seventh in front of a pinch-hit single by Okamoto. With no outs and runners on first and second, Alina Okamoto laid down what appeared to be a perfect sacrifice bunt down the first-base line. However, the first baseman went to third to nip Simon, who went into the base standing and then got a brief earful from Jaime.
Montgomery then blooped a single to center field that appeared as if it would drop right after contact. However, Maya Okamoto ran back to second on contact. Once the ball dropped, it was bobbled by the center fielder and Alina Okamoto was on her way to third, but Maya Okamoto was being held. With Alina Okamoto caught between the bases and Montgomery well on her way to second, the Mayfield catcher got the throw home, but sat on the ball for fear that Maya Okamoto would score on a throw.
"We will be working on our base running," Jaime said.
With the bases loaded, it was Wang's time to shine. But not before some added drama.
Wang's shot was lined well over the third baseman's head, but Maya Okamoto dived back to third on contact, likely for fear of getting doubled up. Jaime told her to get up and charge home, which she did, just in front of the throw.
"I was actually running [to first] and watching [the play develop]," Wang said. "There was so much happening at once.
"Luckily, [Maya Okamoto's] super fast.
"We just have a speedy team."
And one that's gotten out of the gates faster than anyone else in the Prep League.
"I'm very excited," Jaime said. "It sets a good tone for us and what we want to accomplish. I'm very excited about our start."