SAN PEDRO — Striking out a career-high 23 batters in a Rio Hondo League contest won't soon be forgotten by Lauren Cox. Striking out 20 in a playoff game proved to be more satisfying for the La Cañada High softball pitcher.
Cox did just that in leading her team a step closer to repeating as CIF Southern Section Division V champion, striking out 20 as she twirled a one-hit shutout in the Spartans' 7-0 quarterfinal win on Thursday against host Mary Star of the Sea at the San Pedro Softball Complex.
"I came out with a big-game mentality in that I can throw all of my pitches [for strikes]," Cox said. "I want to go out there and give my defense and offense the best that I can.
"Striking out 23 is great, but this is easily more satisfying because it's a playoff game and more of an accomplishment."
The University of San Diego-bound Cox (22-3-1) lost her no-hit bid when Alyssa Gutierrez hit a clean single to right-center field with one out in the sixth inning. The right-hander struck out the side in every inning except the fourth to help the top-seeded Spartans (24-4-1) advance to the semifinals against visiting Nipomo, which posted a 1-0 victory against Hemet, at 3:15 p.m. Tuesday.
Cox struck out 23 on March 27 against Monrovia in a game called after 14 innings because of darkness. Cox showed the Stars (21-7-1) that she was up to the task again.
"With [catcher] Catherine [Horner] back there, I feel comfortable and that's where it all starts," said Cox, who walked three and hit one batter. "Even when I walked somebody, I just had to shake it off."
La Cañada Coach KC Mathews said Cox, who struck out each Stars batter at least once, remained composed throughout her effort in the circle.
"She's been good all year long and there's not much emotion from her," said Mathews, whose team opened with playoff victories against Lompoc and Santa Ana Calvary Chapel. "She's got a lot of experience and we are lucky to have that from her.
"Our offense got her a couple of early runs and our chances increase in winning."
The Spartans, who won the Rio Hondo League, took a 2-0 lead in the first on a bases-loaded bloop double by Jessica Ogden off Mary Star of the Sea starting pitcher Marina Vitalich (19-5) that landed just inside the left-field line to score Katy Lee and Kelsey Drange.
They provided Cox with additional run support in the second, scoring three runs to extend the advantage to 5-0. A bunt single by Lee scored Selina Mohr to make it 3-0. Horner stole home on a double steal to raise the lead to 4-0 before Drange lined an infield single off Vitalich's right hand to score Lee to cap the scoring in the frame.
Lee drove in Mohr with a single in the fifth to make it 6-0. An error by the Mary Star of the Sea third baseman allowed Mohr to score the final run in the seventh.
Mohr finished with three hits and scored three runs. The Spartans also got two hits apiece from Horner and Lee.
Mary Star of the Sea Coach Gregg Aguilar, who guided the Stars to the Camino Real League crown, said Cox and the Spartans proved to be formidable.
"[Cox] is to definitely to be applauded for her effort, and she's the most complete pitcher we've faced in terms of speed and movement," Aguilar said. "She got the best of us.
"If they repeat as CIF champions, then we've got nothing to hang our heads over."