NORTHEAST GLENDALE — With the Horizon League championship on the line, Holy Family Coach Greg Ziomek and San Gabriel Mission counterpart Jaime Preciado naturally called on their respective aces to take the circle and win the most important game of the season to date.
And while both pitchers were stellar, and lived up to expectations, only one pitcher could claim victory for her ball club.
At the end of the day, Mission's Nicole Holguin and counterpart Rachel Turner of Holy Family both went the distance, but it was the Pioneers who did all the scoring, thus coming out victorious in a closely contested 2-0 title game Thursday afternoon at the Glendale Sports Complex.
"When you take the two best teams in the league, it's like two rams hitting each other and anything can happen," Ziomek said. "It could have gone either way for seven innings, but that was an amazing game."
The two runs by the Pioneers (9-11, 7-1 in league) were all they would need, as Preciado kept the Gaels off the scoreboard.
In the first inning, Turner walked leadoff hitter Priscilla Hernandez, who stole second and advanced to third on a passed ball before Amanda Garcia brought her home with a sacrifice fly.
Holy Family's junior pitcher settled down thereafter, giving up just three hits through six innings while striking out seven with two walks, but she received no run support, which kept the pressure on to keep up the solid pitching.
Turner was aided by her defense, which tagged out potential runs at home during the fifth and sixth innings. Catcher Jennifer Rodriguez recovered from a wild pitch to get Miranda Tijerina trying to score for the third out of the fifth inning. Then in the sixth, Melanie Leyva showed off her arm as she gunned down Hernandez from left field on a single off the bat of Cynthia Anaya.
Unfortunately for the Gaels (8-6, 6-2), Holguin kept the Holy Family offense at bay despite the momentum earned by Turner and the defense. In her shutout performance, Holguin struck out seven batters, giving up five hits.
"We usually call her for relief pitching and to close games for us, but we wanted her out there for this entire game," said Preciado, whose team defeated Holy Family, 4-1, on April 12. "Both pitchers pitched really well. Hats off to them."
Still, the Gaels had golden opportunities to score the game-tying run but stranded a runner on third base at the end of the fifth and sixth innings. The much-needed run almost came to be in the second inning when Turner tried to score from second on a bloop single by Aurora Aguirre but was tagged out before reaching home plate.
A leadoff walk came back to bite Turner again in the seventh when the Pioneers plated their second run. Angelica Preciado hit a liner to right field that was dropped, allowing Holguin, who had walked to lead off the inning, to score her own insurance run.
Needing to rally, Rodriguez stepped up to the plate and lined a shot to left that appeared fair but was called foul by the home plate umpire. Had the call gone the other way, the Gaels would have likely had a runner on third with no outs.
It wasn't meant to be though, as the Pioneers wrapped up the outright league title.
"It's hard because we've been trying to beat this team all year," said Turner, who finished with the game with eight strikeouts, three hits, four walks and one earned run. "We're excited for playoffs, though."
"Mission is the best team in the league, but we're now in contention," said Ziomek whose team finishes with the second seed going into the CIF playoffs, fueled by a five-game winning streak prior to Thursday's loss. "Three years ago, we were sent home crying and them looking at us straight in the eye asking what we're doing here."