After watching the La Cañada High boys' basketball team finish its season as CIF Southern Section Division III champions, the Spartans' softball squad is ready to embark on its own playoff journey.
"Our girls really got into that basketball season, the whole school did," La Cañada softball Coach KC Matthews said. "The school support for that team was tremendous."
La Cañada's first-round game of the CIF Southern Section Division V softball playoffs is at 3:15 p.m. today against the winner of the Ramona Convent/Sierra Vista wild-card contest.
The Spartans (21-3, 12-0 in Rio Hondo) enter the tournament as the top seed, but they won't be getting ahead of themselves, Matthews said.
"Our girls have done a really good job this year of having some goals and taking it one game at a time," Matthews said. "I know it sounds cliché, but they really have taken each challenge as it comes."
South Hills bounced La Cañada out of the playoffs in the semifinals last year, defeating the Spartans, 3-1, at home. The playoffs will look a little different this time around, as Lauren Cox, a standout pitcher for the Spartans last year, hasn't be called upon to close out games.
Instead, pitcher Lauren O'Leary has been asked to carry the load for La Cañada after Cox sat out most of the season with a groin injury. O'Leary's record this season is 20-2. She's appeared in all 23 games for the Spartans, starting 21 of them, and thrown 18 complete games and 13 shutouts, striking out 193 while issuing just 32 walks.
"It's definitely a different game plan not having both of them, but this year O'Leary has been absolutely tremendous," said Matthews of his ace, who enters the playoffs with an earned-run average of 0.38, while opposing batters are hitting .193 off her (71 for 536). "She's been the work horse for us and we knew that was in her."
La Cañada's lineup packs plenty of punch, as the squad has a team batting average of .303, with four Spartans — Catherine Horner (.462), Anna Edwards (.461), Jessica Ogden (.327) and Aubri Thompson (.310) — hitting above .300. La Cañada's offense has scored 127 runs this season while holding the opposition to just 32.
The Spartans' success in the regular season is the result of the entire roster contributing with their bats. The balanced offense especially came in handy early in the season, when Edwards wasn't performing as she usually does at the plate.
"In the last two years they have really evolved into a team," said Matthews, adding that his team doesn't rely on just one player offensively. "It's been up and down the lineup all year long. I wouldn't be surprised if it's a team effort in the playoffs."