Spartans start, finish strong

LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — Lauren Cox had only logged 19 plate appearances in the regular season, but she still worked on her hitting everyday in practice and it showed Thursday.

Cox led the La Cañada High softball team to a 15-0 rout of visiting Lompoc — the third-place entrant out of the Los Padres League — in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division V playoffs, as she went three for five with five runs batted in and turned in a one-hit, shutout victory with 14 strikeouts in the circle.

"I actually really like [hitting] because along with helping my team defensively, I think I can help them offensively for the most part," said Cox, who improved to 20-3 and only walked one batter in the game. "I just really like it because I want to do whatever I can to win."

Top-seeded La Cañada (22-4-1) will face Calvary Chapel Santa Ana (20-5-1), which defeated Mark Keppel, 5-4, Thursday with a five-run fourth inning. Home-field advantage for the second round will be determined by a coin flip.

"We definitely have to stay focused and we can't take anything lightly [in the next round] — keep our heads and keep doing what we do best," said La Cañada's Katy Lee, who was four for five with a RBI, two stolen bases and three runs scored.

Lompoc's Tawny Nunes broke up Cox's bid for a no-hitter in the top of the seventh when she hit a hard grounder past Lee, who was playing in to take away the bunt, at second base.

It was the one thing the Braves (8-16) had to cheer for Thursday, as the Spartans exploded for 17 hits with nine players collecting a hit.

No time was wasted by the Spartans, who scored four runs in the bottom of the first after Cox struck out the side in the top half.

"For us getting a good start is important, we preached that this week," said La Cañada Coach KC Mathews, whose team batted 14 for 23 with runners in scoring position. "Stick Lauren to four in the first inning and we feel like we're in a pretty good spot there."

Catherine Horner and Lee reached base on a walk and bunt single to start the first frame, respectively, and each stole a base to put runners at second and third. Kelsey Drange scored Horner when she lined a single into center field and advanced to second on the throw home.

Cox added two insurance runs when she laced a grounder between the hole at third base and shortstop for a 3-0 lead.

Jessica Ogden (three for four, RBI) capped the four-run first when she beat out a grounder to shortstop that wasn't fielded cleanly — one of Lompoc's six errors — to score Alyssa Stolmack, who reached on a fielder's choice, took second on an error and moved to third on a passed ball.

"After [the Braves] won their [wild-card] game [against Gladstone], 21-1, they probably had so much energy and they were carrying it into this game," said Cox, who added a two-run double in the second that scored Lee and Annie Monroe, who reached on an error. "I am glad we were able to take it to them and shut that down."

The Spartans increased their lead to 8-0 on RBI singles in the third and fourth from Brenna Gay (two for two, RBI) and Ogden, respectively.

La Cañada closed the game out with a seven-run sixth inning that was highlighted by RBI singles from Olivia Leyva that scored Olivia Lam, who singled aboard, Lee, Monroe, Cox and Aubri Thompson.

"They didn't quit, kept going through and pushed across a run in every inning except one," Mathews said. "The girls did a great job today."

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