IRVINE — For the first several innings, Saturday's CIF Southern Section Division V championship game at Deanna Manning Stadium in Irvine played out faithfully to the script of last year's.
Once again, the La Cañada High softball team squared off with Beaumont for the title with dominant starting pitchers headlining the matchup and once again things were nip and tuck in the early going.
But, whereas in 2011 they stayed that way right until the end of the Spartans victory, in which an Anna Edwards home run backed a Lauren O'Leary shutout for a one-run win on just three hits, this year's La Cañada team took a different path to a championship.
Lauren Cox delivered another stellar pitching effort for La Cañada, but this time, the Spartans' offense would have no part of a pitcher's duel.
With the confidence of a reigning champion and the determination of a team with something to prove after being stymied by Beaumont pitcher Alyssa Fuimaono last year, the Spartans started hot and finished on fire in tagging Fuimaono for seven runs on 11 hits in Saturday's 7-3 win.
"Our confidence was huge and after each hit our confidence kept getting bigger and bigger," Spartans first baseman Kelsey Drange said.
Edwards has since graduated along with O'Leary, but on Saturday it was the core of Drange, Catherine Horner and Jessica Ogden, all veterans of last year's title game, who led the charge against Fuimaono, combining to go seven for nine with five runs batted in and four runs scored.
"It was very much a team thing," Ogden said. "We knew we didn't have one person that's overwhelming like Anna, so we all came out and just contributed our own little piece."
Part of the advantage the Spartans enjoyed came from having seen Fuimaono's best stuff a year ago, whereas the Cougars were wholly unfamiliar with Cox, who allowed just one run in two hits over the first six innings of her complete game.
"[Last year] I wasn't prepared for her, I had never seen her before and this year, I knew what I was going to see," said Drange, who went three for four with three RBI. "We all practiced for what we knew we were going to see and it paid off big time."
The Spartans started off small, scoring first in the first on a lead-off single followed by two groundouts to move the runner to third and finally a two-out single. They took a 2-1 lead in the second on two infield singles and a wild pitch, but in the fifth really began squaring up on Fuimaono.
Horner's lead-off double was the hardest hit ball of the game to that point and set the stage for a three-run inning that culminated in Ogden's two-run double and a 5-1 lead.
"I think everyone was more relaxed [than last year]," said Horner (two for three with three runs). "I think our mentality changed [later in the game]. Everyone got a lot more confident. After one time around [the batting order] we were able to adjust very quickly to her. Confidence was the key here."
La Cañada put the game all but out of reach in the sixth with a two-out rally started by Horner taking a pitch off of her hand. Olivia Lam walked and Annie Monroe singled to load the bases and Drange completed her big day by singling in two more runs.
"They went in with a plan and stuck to it," Beaumont Coach Jim Tickemyer said. "There was half a dozen in the lineup that were seeing Alyssa for the sixth, seventh, ninth time and that's always an advantage — always an advantage not an excuse. They put balls in play and found some holes in the defense and took it to us."
Seemingly, the Spartans repeated as champions on Saturday because they not only played like they had been there before, but also learned from their past experience and used them to become even better.
"I think part of it's definitely that swag, we hold our heads high because we know we can do it," said Ogden, who was two for three with two RBI. "It's also because we're kind of like a family."