COSTA MESA — There was little room for error for La Cañada High softball pitcher Lauren Cox with no outs and the winning run at the plate in the bottom of the seventh for Calvary Chapel Santa Ana.
Whatever worry may have been there appeared to dissolve when Cox got a visit from her catcher Catherine Horner.
"I just said, 'Lauren, it's OK, we have a defense and we have your insurance run so just do what you do and we'll get through this," Horner said. "That's all you need to say to her, put a smile on her face and she's relaxed and good to go."
There certainly was a smile on Cox's face minutes later, as she only threw one more ball the rest of the game. The senior got consecutive strikeouts on counts of 0-2 and 1-2 and got an easy pop out to second base on an 0-2 count to end the game for a 3-1 La Cañada victory.
"[Horner] always knows what to say," said Cox, who scattered three hits, a walk and struck out 10 and went one for three at the plate in the win. "She calms me down and it gives us both the clarity to see what we need to do and what to focus on. It just gives us all a breath."
Cox (21-3) got another visit from Horner in the bottom of the sixth inning when the Eagles (20-6-1) brought the tying run to the plate after a one-out double from Melanie Coyne, who moved to third on a sacrifice bunt.
Horner walked out to the circle after Cox fell behind, 2-0, to Calvary's Kimberlee Estes with Kaitlin Estes, who produced the Eagles' only run with a solo homer in the fourth, on deck.
Whatever was said worked, as Cox worked her way into a full count before getting Estes to bounce an easy grounder right back to her for an out at first.
Cox's performance shielded a slim lead the Spartans built on 10 hits and four Eagles errors and the consensus was the close game would be good for top-seeded La Cañada (23-4-1) down the road.
"Being in a game like this early in the playoffs is good," said La Cañada Coach KC Mathews. "It's an experienced bunch over there and they've been around the block. I don't think they were panicking and it showed."
Said Horner: "I think it's a good experience for the team because walking into this it seemed like it was going to be easier than what it was. It's CIF and anything can happen. I really feel like this was good for our team to experience a close game like this."
Horner gave the Spartans an early lead with a double in the top of the third that scored Selina Mohr.
Mohr reached on an error when she laid a bunt down third and moved to second on a throwing error. Horner was thrown out advancing to third on her double.
The inning continued when Katy Lee, who went two for three and wreaked havoc on the bases all day, pressured Calvary's defense again when she slapped a bunt back to the pitcher and went all the way to third after the throw to first sailed into right field.
Annie Monroe quickly popped up to shallow center field but the ball was dropped to score Lee.
The Spartans added another run in the fourth on a Mohr double that plated Brenna Gay (two for three), who singled aboard.
"It's somebody different each and every softball game," said Mathews of the at-bats from Lee, Monroe, Mohr, Gay and Kelsey Drange (three for three). "Our small ball was on display. We aren't always a small-ball team, but they did a great job. …We put pressure on their defense."
Kaitlin Estes also had a day to remember for Calvary Chapel. In addition to her homer she made two great diving plays at shortstop to quell possible Spartan rallies in the fifth and sixth.
La Cañada loaded the bases with one out in the top of the fifth. Gay appeared to have increased the Spartans' lead when she hit a hard grounder passed first base, but was just thrown out at first by Calvary's Alyssa Stringfield in right field to keep the score at 3-1.
The Spartans also put runners on first and second with one out in the seventh, but couldn't add to their cushion.
"We had runners on every inning but the sixth, but we just didn't get that one big hit to get it through, but that's OK," Mathews said.