Relatively speaking, a two-run lead must have felt like twice that considering the circumstances for Miranda Viramontes in the last two weeks.
With three of the last four games for the Chino High School softball team decided by one run — not to mention the pressure of a 27-year wait and entire school riding on her shoulders — retiring Lakewood’s final batter with the tying run on second to seal a 2-0 Chino victory in the CIF-SS Division 2 semifinals was just the latest in a line of dramatic feats for the sophomore.
Viramontes pitched a three-hitter with eight strikeouts in addition to hitting the go-ahead solo home run in the fourth inning to earn Chino its first berth in a CIF championship game since 1985.
Of all the possible opponents, the Cowgirls (24-9) will face a team from its own city in the final after Don Lugo’s 2-1 victory in the other Division 3 semifinal. The last time the two Mt. Baldy League foes met, it took Chino nine innings to churn out a 1-0 victory.
Just like a 3-2 second-round win over No. 1 seed Mission Viejo and a 2-1 quarterfinal victory over Millikan, Tuesday’s semifinal win didn’t come easy.
On the strength of home runs by Viramontes and Steph Sandoval in the fourth inning, the Mt. Baldy League champions carried a two-run lead into the seventh inning. But Viramontes’ only two walks of the game, the Cowgirls’ only error of the game and a stolen base landed the tying run on second with Chino one out away from the CIF finals.
Viramontes did the honors herself, catching a pop-up to end the game.
“It was pretty nerve wracking cause he was squeezing the strikezone on me in that last inning,” Viramontes said. “But I just pitched to my spots and got out of it. It feels amazing right now. For us to have made the final means a lot.”
The Chino defense was suffocating behind Viramontes. Lakewood (28-6), the second-place from the Moore League, went downhill after the first batter. A lead-off double was followed by a hit each in the second and third innings, to complete the team’s three-hit total.
Center fielder Cayla Unverzagt, who had two of Lakewood’s hits, reached third in the third inning but the closest the Lancers came to scoring was when a wild pitch was prevented from rolling to the backstop when it hit the umpire’s foot.
“(Viramontes) was just on today,” Lakewood coach Andy Miramontes said. “We got some runners in scoring position early but we just didn’t execute. I’m disappointed we lost but I’m not disappointed in the way we lost.”
Chino totaled five hits, but the Cowgirls didn’t advance a runner past second aside from the two home runs. Lakewood pitcher Janel Hayes served up two high fastballs in the span of three batters in the fourth inning and that was all Chino needed. Viramontes, for one, was confident the Chino offense would give her all the support she required. The rest of the Cowgirls certainly had plenty of confidence in their unshakable pitcher.
“She’s on a roll right now,” Chino coach Mike Smith said. “For her to be doing this and she’s only a sophomore, it’s huge. She pitched some last year but she’s been amazing this year. This is so big for the city of Chino to have two teams in the final.”