Kaiser softball team’s comeback keeps Cats alive

Pitcher Krystel Gabbard calmly shook her head when asked if she was worried about the Kaiser High School softball team’s five-run deficit two innings into Tuesday’s second-round CIF-SS Division 4 playoff game against Rancho Alamitos.

The same can’t be said for the feeling in the Cats’ dugout.

“I’m 64 going on 80,” Kaiser coach John Stevens said after the Cats’ 9-5 comeback victory punctuated by a tie-breaking four-run sixth inning.

After going hitless the first two innings, the Sunkist League champions collected 13 hits, more than half of which were for extra bases.

Gabbard, who allowed no runs on four hits after the first two innings, went 2 for 3 with three RBIs and two runs scored. The routine fly ball she hit in the fifth inning, however, may have been the play that ultimately swung the momentum. Kaiser (20-8) tied the game with its second run of the inning one batter after the Rancho Alamitos center fielder couldn’t squeeze Gabbard’s fly ball. Destiney Henderson’s hard-hit ground ball through the shortstop’s legs rolled all the way to the left-center field fence, the second consecutive error by Rancho Alamitos (14-11), allowing Gabbard to tie the game at 5.

In its final at-bat one inning later, there was no doubt which team had all the momentum as Kaiser hit three of its seven doubles during a four-run inning.

“I wasn’t worried because I know how well this team has been playing,” Gabbard said. “I think we’re good enough to go all the way this year. And hopefully this time, we’ll win it.”

Stevens largely credited his team’s poise to the experience drawn from a run to last year’s Division 4 final, where the Cats lost 5-0 to Dos Pueblos. The scoreboard read 5-0 on Tuesday after Emili Olague’s RBI single up the middle but it was a first-inning two-run home run and a second-inning two-run double by Kyra Sirag that did most of the damage. Two-out, run-scoring doubles in both the third and fourth innings pulled Kaiser within 5-3.

“I knew we could battle back,” Stevens said. “We got a little frustrated early on, but the kids relaxed and got some pitches to hit.”