CANYON COUNTRY — Facing elimination and the only team to have defeated them thus far in the postseason, the task at hand for the Foothill Major Softball All-Stars was daunting enough before a pair of harrowing pregame incidents.
While making the trek to the Canyon Country Little League complex, Foothill's Julia and Claire Smith and Sophie Georges were in the Georges family car when it reportedly overheated and burst into flames. Stranded on the side of the freeway not far from an enflamed vehicle, they were fortunate to flag down teammate Catie Spencer's family en route to the game.
As if surviving a mobile inferno wasn't enough, another pregame obstacle came when Sammy Fabian, the team's leadoff hitter and third baseman, was struck by a line drive in warm-ups.
"It was an added element of stress for us," Foothill co-Coach Todd Fabian said. "They were a little shaken up. We didn't get off to our usual start."
But, while Foothill had plenty to deal with on and off the diamond, Mission Hills' early struggles led to local fortune, as the Foothill All-Stars used two first-inning unearned runs to propel them to a 6-2 win on Monday in the championship game of the Section 2 Major Softball Tournament. The victory forced a winner-take-all final today at 5 p.m. at the same venue.
"I think we fought through [the adversity] well, forgot everything and played our hardest," said Danielle Ryan, who went two for three with an RBI triple, the latter coming in a four-run second that blew the game open.
Ryan also makes up a third of Foothill's pitching attack, along with Jordan Lousararian and Alex Howard, which allowed four hits, four walks and struck out six Mission Hills batters on Monday, as they each pitched two innings. It was the same Mission Hills team that defeated Foothill, 3-2, on Saturday, forcing the District 16 champions into an elimination rematch with rival Quartz Hill on Sunday. Foothill, buoyed by a combined shutout from Howard, Lousararian and Ryan, beat Quartz Hill, 2-0, for a second time in the tournament to lead to Monday's contest.
"They don't get tired, they're fresh," said Coach Fabian of using the three-pitcher rotation, which also allows them to use each hurler on consecutive days when held to two innings. "We've been doing it all season."
In the top of the first, Lousararian stranded a Mission Hills runner in what we become a foreshadowing of things to come.
In the bottom of the inning, Fabian reached on an error before Lousararian reached base on a walk. Fabian then scored the game's first run after tagging to third and advancing home on the second of six Mission Hills errors.
"They made some errors and we capitalized," Coach Fabian said. "It was a good team effort."
Lousararian pushed the lead to 2-0 after a Ryan single was bobbled by the left fielder for another error.
In the bottom of the sixth, Foothill could do no wrong and Mission Hills no right.
After Julia Smith reached on an error, Arianna Campbell singled to right. Fabian then reached on an error at shortstop that subsequently plated Smith for a 3-0 lead. Howard then delivered a two-run single to plate Campbell and Fabian before Ryan tripled home Howard.
"Hitting's contagious on our team," Ryan said.
Meanwhile, Foothill's staff was in the process of stranding eight Mission Hills runners until Ryan allowed two runs in the fifth before recording her team's only 1-2-3 inning to end the game.
"We had a bad inning," Coach Fabian said. "In 12U softball, you're always nervous until that last pitch is thrown."
With Mission Hills expected to throw it's No. 1 pitcher today, Foothill is very likely to use all three of its pitchers again, hoping for a lot better beginning to their day and the same ending to celebrate.