LA CRESCENTA — As the reigning league champion and front-runner heading into Tuesday's games, the Burroughs High softball team has made it clear that the Pacific League title will go through the Indians this season.
On Tuesday, however, they made a stop in Crescenta Valley, which now holds a few more cards in its quest to knock off the Indians after a 5-2 win that pulled the two teams into a first-place tie with four games left.
"Burroughs has a great team, and any time you're playing a great team you have to step up and it's the little things that win the game for you," said Crescenta Valley Coach Dan Berry, whose team bounced back from an 8-2 defeat in the teams' first meeting March 31.
It was a variety of things, some big — a pair of two-run home runs — and some little, like a run-saving defensive play by Crescenta Valley late in the game, followed by one fateful Indians pitch that was never intended to be anywhere near the strike zone, that swung the game in favor of the Falcons, and the league title back into play.
"Today was a big win and everybody did their part to contribute to it," Falcons pitcher Erin Ashby said.
Ashby allowed one earned run on eight hits in seven innings to claim the win. She also drove in three of the Falcons' runs.
Freshman left fielder Hannah Cookson had her fingerprints all over the win, as well, adding two insurance runs with a sixth-inning home run and turning in a key defensive play in the top of the sixth to keep the score tied.
After each team had traded two-run outbursts in the bottom of the third and top of the fourth innings, the game again became a battle of pitching and defense right up until the Falcons' half of the sixth. Kelly Bako got things started for Crescenta Valley (17-3, 9-1 in league) with a one-out double to deep center field. Ashby, who had singled and homered in her first two plate appearances before drawing an intentional walk in the fourth inning, came up next and the Indians had no intention of letting her swing the bat.
But Burroughs starter Heather Haynes, who until the sixth inning had allowed just two earned runs on eight hits while pitching out of danger several times, let a would-be intentional ball drift too far back in over the plate where it was slapped by Ashby into right field to plate the go-ahead run.
"[I was thinking] I've got to do everything I can to get that runner as close to home as I can," Ashby said. "Obviously, it's an intentional walk, but you've got to be ready for that pitch to be missed in and that's exactly what happened."
Cookson then launched a two-out shot to deep right-center field to hand Ashby more support than she would need, as she turned the lights out on Burroughs (15-7, 9-1) by retiring the side in order in the top of the seventh.
"We came here not wanting those girls to beat us and they did," Burroughs Coach Doug Nicol said of Cookson and Ashby.
While both teams had runners in scoring position in the first inning, Ashby and Haynes were both in control until each suffered a hiccup, beginning with the Falcons' half of the third.
Bako reached on a one-out infield single and Ashby smashed a 2-2 pitch to extreme opposite-field right, where it snuck just inside the foul pole for a 2-0 lead.
Crescenta Valley found itself in position to break the game open later in the inning when Allison Lacey walked, Cookson doubled and Sydney House reached on an infield single to load the bases with one out. But Haynes got out of the jam with a strikeout and a routine grounder to short.
It didn't take Burroughs long to answer offensively, as Shannon Trujillo led off the top of the fourth with a double to center field. Taylor Buliavac singled to move Trujillo easily to third, where she made a big turn toward home. A throw to third from the infield to try and catch Trujillo before she could slide back to the base skipped into foul territory for a run-scoring two-base error and Buliavac came around on a sacrifice fly by Haley Schulman one batter later.
Crescenta Valley escaped the inning without any further damage, but left two more runners in scoring position in its half of the fourth when Haynes came up with a big strikeout of Lacey.
The Falcons also sparked a two-out rally behind singles by Jessica Morena and Cece Martinez in the fifth, but Haynes was again able to skate free on a check-swing strikeout of Delaney Gay.
Burroughs had its best chance to take the lead in the sixth inning, when the Indians opened with back-to-back singles by Sidney Ortega and Trujillo before Ashby was able to strike out the next batter to get some breathing room. But the trouble was far from over, as Schulman singled cleanly to right field with Ortega going from second.
Cookson fielded the ball quickly on one hop and fired a dart down the third-base line to Bako, who was able tag out Ortega after a brief rundown.
With runners at the corners, Ashby put out the fire by getting Hailee White to ground back to the circle on a full-count pitch.