LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE — There was plenty of drama in the La Cañada High softball team's CIF Southern Section Division V victory, but little to no celebration from the victorious Spartans.
La Cañada ensured a return to the Division V title game for the second year in a row with its most important and perhaps its most dramatic win of the year over visiting Nipomo, 1-0, but it was clear the Spartans didn't have any sense of a mission accomplished.
"We're not done, so we're not going to have this big grand celebration with all the theatrics now," said La Cañada pitcher Lauren Cox, who earned the shutout victory with 13 strikeouts, including striking out the side in the seventh with the last two coming with a pair of runners on board. "We want to win [the championship], so if we do, that's what we're going to do. This is a huge game, obviously getting us into the finals, but I think it was more of just a relief at first and then go shake the other team's hands."
It will be a rematch in the Division V title game, as Beaumont also advanced to the championship over Barstow, 7-1. The game is set for Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at Deanna Manning Stadium in Irvine. La Cañada (25-4-1) won last year’s crown with a 1-0 win over Beaumont (25-4).
"I don't care who we play, I am just happy we're there and we're going to hold up our end of the bargain," said La Cañada Coach KC Mathews, who got the game-winning hit on a Kelsey Drange single to score Katy Lee in the bottom of the sixth inning. "I am just so happy for the girls. I am just happy to see their hard work has been fulfilled now.
"I told them our goal was not to get here, our goal was to finish. I think that's why you saw them happy, but I guess you could say they acted like they've been there before. ...They want to get this done."
La Cañada struggled all day against Nipomo pitcher Courtney Cuzick, who struck out six and took a no-hitter into the bottom of the fifth until Jessica Ogden lined a lead-off single into center field.
But it was an inning later when the game was ultimately decided, as the Spartans broke through in the bottom of the sixth with three straight hits — despite all three being close to flyouts.
Lee got it started when she sliced a one-out double that landed just behind the Titans third baseman and inside the third-base line before it bounced out of play to put Lee at second.
"I guess luck was on my side," Lee said. "I was thinking, 'Oh shoot, I just popped up. I'm a slap-hitter I can't do that.'"
Annie Monroe followed Lee's double with an infield single that landed between Nipomo's pitcher and shortstop and froze Lee at second.
Drange appeared to have loaded the bases when she drew a walk on an outside pitch with a 3-1 count, but the umpire ruled it a strike. That was fine with Drange.
"I want to hit, I play softball to hit," Drange said.
Drange did just that, as she blooped a single just in front of Nipomo's left fielder, who didn't come up with the ball cleanly, to score Lee.
Mathews initially held up Lee, but waved her around to score when he saw Nipomo's fielder bobble the ball. There was never any doubt in Lee's mind about where she was going.
"I did not know it was going to fall, but as soon as it hit its peak in the air I knew it was going to fall and I'm going to score," Lee said. "When I saw Mr. Mathews waving me in I knew we were good. In my mind, I saw him waving me in the whole time because that's what I was thinking."
Cox, who improved to 23-3 and gave up two hits, seven walks and hit a batter, protected La Cañada's slim lead, albeit not without plenty of drama.
In the seventh, Nipomo's Saundra Renner drew a lead-off walk and moved to second on a Destiny Fryckman one-out walk after Cox struck out the second batter of the inning.
Spartans catcher Catherine Horner and the team's pitching coach, Meredith Cervenka, took a trip out to the circle after the second free pass and calmed Cox's — along with the home-crowd fans' — nerves, as Cox struck out the next two batters to end the game.
"You've got to get lucky to win championships," Mathews said of La Cañada's sixth-inning rally, "but there's the old adage, 'Luck is where preparation and circumstance meet.' That happened today, these girls have been working their tails off all year."