CANYON COUNTRY — On a sunny, windy afternoon in Canyon Country, four summers of chasing Section 2 glory finally came to fruition for the Foothill All-Stars and concluded with celebration after first baseman Miranda Diaz clutched the final out.
Keyed by a clutch two-run single from Alex Howard, the Foothill Major Softball All-Stars defeated Mission Hills, 3-1, on Tuesday afternoon at the Canyon Country Little League complex, bringing home the team's first Section 2 title and advancing to the Southern California State Championships.
"This is very exciting because we've spent four years trying to get here and we finally won," said Diaz, who recorded all three putouts in the final inning to conclude a phenomenal fielding day for herself and the team overall.
Foothill (6-1) broke a scoreless tie in the bottom of the third, as Julia Smith tallied her team's first hit with a one-out single, Sammy Fabian walked with two outs and Jordan Lousararian reached on an error to load the bases for Howard, who delivered a huge two-run single to center.
"It feels great to be on the other side," said Howard of finally winning after being part of a core group of players to have lost in three consecutive Section 2 tournaments beginning at the 9-10 level.
After coming up just short three consecutive years, Foothill prevailed with just three hits to go along with three pitchers. Howard got the win after tossing two scoreless innings and pitching out of a bit of trouble in the third after giving up a single and surviving two walks in the fourth.
Lousararian began the game with two scoreless innings of one-hit ball, while Danielle Ryan closed out the game, earning the save and surviving an unearned run in the top of the fifth to close out the victory.
"It just feels good," said Foothill co-Coach Tyson Howard. "Just to not be nervous anymore feels good."
The nerves will likely start up a bit more on Thursday, as the District 16 and, now, Section 2 champions open up play at 5:45 p.m. against the Section 9 champion in the SoCal State Championships in Colton at the Colton Veterans Park.
Before making it to a postgame celebration behind first base on Tuesday, though, Foothill had to contend with a Mission Hills squad that defeated it in the teams' first meeting of the tournament on Saturday.
Mission Hills' Ivana Rodriguez defeated Foothill on Saturday in a 3-2 win and once more handcuffed Foothill on Tuesday, pitching a complete game and allowing no earned runs on three hits, no walks and five strikeouts.
But Rodriguez and an uncertain defense gave Foothill life in the third and set up Howard, her team's No. 3 hitter, to be the hero.
"[Rodriguez] gave us a little opening," Coach Fabian said. "Alex came up big."
Howard survived a hiccup in the third when she gave up a leadoff single, but Diaz turned an unassisted inning-ending double play when she snared a line drive and then stepped on first to double up the runner. In the top of the fourth, Howard pitched out of trouble again after issuing a pair of two-out walks.
Foothill tacked on another run in the fourth when Diaz reached base on an error and then came home on an RBI groundout by Katia Colwell.
Ryan took over in the circle in the fifth and was rudely greeted with consecutive singles, but she deftly fielded consecutive comebackers and got the lead runner each time. But a dropped pop fly at second base allowed a run to score and to prolong the inning, drawing the score to 3-1.
Tyson Howard quickly called time and brought his infield together.
"He just wanted us to let go on the mistake we made," Diaz said. "I thought it was a very hard play to make. I thought we battled back very well."
Ryan walked the following batter, but then induced a dying popup just over her head that Lousararian, at shortstop, fielded on a roll and quickly flipped to second for the third out — a controversial one in the eyes of the Mission Hills fans.
"We knew it was gonna be a good game," said Sammy Fabian. "They were good, we were good."
Ryan wasted no time in the sixth, though, and retired the side in order on just eight pitches to culminate quite the run for her team.
The run also included two victories over Quartz Hill, which had prevailed over Foothill in each of the last three seasons, making the 2011 triumph all the sweeter.
"It feels really good cause usually we get kicked out by Quartz Hill," Sammy Fabian said. "This time we came through."