Everything was going perfectly for the Crescenta Valley-Foothill Junior All-Stars softball team until it found itself behind in the Section 2 tournament championship game.
CVFH hadn't surrendered a run in its first two games of the tournament — wins over Canyon Country-Mission Hills (8-0) and Quartz Hill (7-0) — until it found itself trailing Canyon Country-Mission Hills, 4-3, in the third inning of the Section 2 championship game Tuesday.
There was plenty of time for CVFH to find itself in the game, as it went on to capture the 13-9 victory and tournament title to stamp its ticket into the Division III tournament, which begins Saturday.
CVFH opens the double-elimination tournament against the Section 9 champions at 6 p.m. at Kent D. Mace Field in Westchester. CVFH will need to win a minimum of four games for the Division III title and a trip to Tucson, Ariz. and the Western Regional Tournament.
While CVFH Coach Will Thayer was far from pleased during and just after Tuesday's game, he thinks the experience may pay off in the future.
"I think we got some bugs out of our system," Thayer said. "Hopefully there won't be repeat. I think it's a good thing we had a little bump in the road there."
Adela Alatraca, who has been the go-to pitcher out of the bullpen for CVFH, said the game was a valuable lesson that proved there's no need to push the panic button if the team is trailing.
"I think that last game really helped us because it challenged us to fight through the game and it got our confidence up," Alatraca said. "It showed we can be down and come back."
Obviously, CVFH prefers to be in control from the very beginning, something it's shown by scoring at least one run in the first inning of all three Section 2 tournament games.
"The way I like to approach the game is to put pressure the other team, the defense right away, that's my style of play," Thayer said. "I like to attack them early and get them on their heels, especially when I'm the visitor. I can't see not getting a run in the first inning or two, that's almost a given for us, I would say."
CVFH's top of the batting order can be credited for the fast starts with two slap hitters with great speed in No. 1 and 2 hitters Sammy Fabian and Cailey Ellingford, Thayer said.
Pitching has been another strong point for CVFH with four solid pitchers — Alatraca, Jordan Lousararian, Alex Howard and Brenda Gamez — at Thayer's disposal.
"I am really grateful we have really good pitchers because it makes life behind the plate really easy," said CVFH catcher and one of the team's best hitters Cailen Rodriguez, who was eight for 10 with four runs batted in and five runs in the Section 2 tournament. "They throw pretty fast and they have some great pitches."
Thayer's used the depth strategically. He's relied on his starting pitcher for the first four innings, which keeps them eligible for the next game under Little League rules, before turning to the steady Alatraca to close out the final three innings.
"That's a good tactic to take at any level," Thayer said. "You give a team two different looks in the same game because when you go through a lineup once or twice you start to pick up on a pitcher's tendencies as a hitter."
All the depth of talent CVFH has on board has given Thayer high hopes for the Division III tournament.
"I have been to the [major] divisional series the past two years," Thayer said. "I have had seven or eight really good players before, but this year the whole team is filled with good players. I am deeper with pitching this year and everyone hits up and down the lineup. We are as deep as we've ever been and I have been outs away from Regionals, so this year I think we have a legitimate shot to get to Arizona."