Back-to-back champs

IRVINE — It was the two senior pillars of the La Cañada High softball team that lifted the Spartans to a CIF Southern Section Division V championship last year.

Everyone wanted in on the action Saturday when La Cañada traveled back to Irvine's Deanna Manning Stadium for a rematch with Beaumont for the division title.

All three facets of the game and just about everyone came together for the Spartans, who played solid defense, got another strong pitching performance and caught fire offensively in a 7-3 victory over the Cougars.

"It's completely different games," said Spartans Coach KC Mathews of the past two championship games. "There's not one better than another, they're just different. Last year our studs stepped up and did the job. This year — it was kind of the anthem of the year — we needed the whole team to step up if we were going to get back here and do what we just did. It was like they all decided to all do it today."

The Spartans piled on 11 hits with six batters getting a base hit and four more — Catherine Horner, Kelsey Drange, Annie Monroe and Jessica Ogden — logging multi-hit games.

Lauren Cox backed La Cañada's offense in the circle, as she struck out 10 and gave up five hits and three runs in the complete-game victory.

"We had an amazing team outing today," said Cox, who sat out most of last year with an injury. "Had [the offense] not come through we wouldn't have won the game. I am so excited, we've worked so hard and it's so nice to actually feel like I have been a part of it."

All of the Spartans' success at the plate came off Beaumont senior pitcher Alyssa Fuimaono, who held most of La Cañada's lineup in check in last year's championship game.

Fuimaono gave up just three hits in the 2011 title game, but one was a solo homer to Anna Edwards that backed La Cañada pitcher Lauren O'Leary for a 1-0 victory and the Spartans' first CIF title since 1995.

The Spartans had two hits and a run off the Cougars (26-5) by the end of the first inning Saturday.

Horner (two for three with three runs) started the offensive attack with a leadoff single to right field in the bottom of the first inning. She moved to third on a sacrifice bunt and groundout before Kelsey Drange blooped a single to left field for a 1-0 lead.

"Our confidence sky rocketed after [we scored]," said Drange, who continued her hot week after she was responsible for La Cañada's only run in a 1-0 win over Nipomo in Tuesday's semifinals with three hits and three runs batted in Saturday. "We wanted to come back from the last game where we only scored one run so we wanted to show we deserved to be here and by [the scoreboard], we did."

Beaumont answered and tied the game in the top of the second. Fuimaono led off the frame with a single, moved to third on an error and scored on a squeeze bunt from Kelsey Dodson.

The Spartans, who became the third program in school history to win back-to-back titles, got their first two runners aboard in their half of the second, as Ogden (two for three, two RBI) legged out an infield single and Alyssa Stolmack pushed a bunt for a base hit. Ogden and Stolmack moved to second and third on a Brenna Gay sacrifice bunt. Ogden put La Cañada back in front, 2-1, when she scored on a wild pitch with two outs.

The Spartans erupted for three more runs in the bottom of the fifth.

Horner led the fifth inning off again with a double to the left-center gap, moved to third on a grounder to second and scored on a Monroe single over the Beaumont shortstop for a 3-1 lead.

The inning looked to be over when La Cañada's Michelle Grochow hit what appeared to be a groundout to third base, but Beaumont didn't field it cleanly and everyone was safe on the error. Ogden made the Cougars pay when she lined a double to left-center to push the lead to 5-1.

"We had an unfortunate error that extended an inning and they ended up getting two runs out of it," Beaumont Coach Jim Tickemyer said."They got the momentum and they hung on to it. They did really well offensively against us I thought. They just kept finding the holes in the defense."

A two-out rally led to two more Spartans runs in the sixth on a two-RBI single from Drange.

Three of the Cougars' hits and two of their runs came in the top of the seventh. Khassidy Valdivia provided Beaumont's biggest blast of the game in the final inning when she hit a two-run homer with no outs to cap the scoring.

Dodson kept comeback hopes alive when she singled to right field in the following at-bat. Cox induced a fly ball to right field and let her defense close the game, as La Cañada second baseman Katy Lee made a great over-the-shoulder catch on a line drive up the middle and fired a throw to first to double up Dodson to end the game.

"What a way to end the game," Cox said. "It was awesome."

Both Horner and Cox finished their high school careers in style and both will continue their careers at the college level next year for the University of Tulsa and San Diego, respectively.

Even without those standout seniors, Mathews still knows he will have plenty of talent and experience to make another run next year.

When it came to the thought of a three-peat, Mathews reply was simple: "Shoot, I won't count anything out."

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