GLENDALE — Staring directly at the possibility of heartbreaking defeat, the Foothill Major Softball All-Stars hardly played the part of a bunch of downtrodden Little Leaguers, according to co-Coach Tyson Howard.
"My girls, even though they're down [two runs] in the ninth, they are dancing and singing and just having the best time," Howard said.
And after the bottom of the ninth, there was even more reason for dancing and singing, as Foothill pulled off the latest in a line of dramatic victories, as it rallied for three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning late Sunday night to defeat Westchester Del Ray, 7-6, in the semifinals of the Southern California State Championships Tournament at Ken Hubbs Little League complex in Colton.
"We were just trying to pump ourselves up and not get down," said Foothill's Danielle Ryan, the game's winning pitcher, who drove in the game-winning hit on a two-out double to score Jordan Lousararian.
The game featured a slew of lead changes, the final coming as Foothill fell behind, 6-4, in the top of the ninth inning before Lousararian, Julia Smith and Arianna Campbell scored to complete the comeback.
"It was the most amazing game I've ever been involved in," said Howard, whose team was on the heels of a 5-3 win over Colton. "It was incredible."
With the walk-off victory, Foothill (9-1) advanced to the state championships final on Wednesday at 5:45 p.m. at the same site against an opponent to be determined.
"It's really exciting," said Ryan, who led her team to its sixth consecutive victory. "It's been a really great experience."
Ryan had three extra-base hits, drove in three runs and scored another to key the charge.
"Danielle was out of her mind," Howard said. "She took the whole team on her back."
Ryan got the District 16 and Section 2 champions off to the right start when she doubled in Sammy Fabian, who had walked, and Lousararian for a 2-0 advantage in the bottom of the third. Lousararian, who had two RBI and two runs, got the start in the circle and twirled three shutout innings.
Alex Howard was then brought on in relief in the fourth.
"Jordan was pitching great, but we were just trying to keep them off-balance," Tyson Howard said.
Alex Howard was victimized by three straight singles, however, the latter two of the infield variety and the last disputed by the Foothill bench on a close call at first. The singles, combined with a sacrifice fly and a groundout, put Westchester, the Section 4 champion, ahead, 3-2, in the top of the fourth.
Westchester added another run in the fifth, as Howard allowed a single, but struck out the side, though a pair of wild pitches and a dropped third strike ushered in the Westchester run.
In the bottom of the inning, Foothill mounted its first comeback, as Fabian singled and reached second on a subsequent error. After stealing third, Fabian cut the lead to 4-3 on a Lousararian RBI groundout.
Ryan took over in the circle in the sixth and would throw the final four innings of the game.
She then led off the bottom of the sixth with a triple and scored the game-tying run on a Sophie Georges RBI groundout.
The teams would match scoreless seventh and eighth innings, though Foothill survived some heavy drama in the eighth with Westchester notching a pair of one-out singles. Smith, in right field, made a clutch basket catch, however, and then doubled up the runner at second for an inning-ending double play.
"It was such a crazy night," Coach Howard said.
Ryan ran into some trouble in the top of the ninth when she gave up a single and a double to start the stanza before retiring the side in order thereafter, but not before Westchester had taken a 6-4 lead.
With the 7-8-9 hitters due up in the ninth, things looked bleak for Foothill, but it was hardly the team's outlook, according to Howard, who added that assistant Meghan Spencer, a junior-to-be at Glendale High, deserved praise for always keeping the team's spirits up.
"I think it all has a lot to do with Meghan Spencer and her talking to the girls about how they have to seize the moment," said Howard, adding that him and co-Coach Todd Fabian deciding to bring on Spencer was an invaluable choice. "It was probably the best decision we've made."
With one away in the ninth, Smith reached base on an error before Campbell drew a walk. Fabian then batted in Smith on a groundout before Lousararian once again came up clutch, lining a game-tying single to score Campbell. An Alex Howard single followed to set the stage for Ryan.
"I just cleared my head and did the best I could," said Ryan of her approach to the game-winning at-bat.
Foothill, after receiving Saturday off, also had Monday and today off, as Anaheim Loara and Colton were set to play Monday with the winner facing Westchester today at 5:45 p.m. Foothill will play the winner of that game at 5:45 p.m. and if it loses would play an if-necessary final shortly thereafter.
Said Coach Howard: "We're in a great spot."