By Miguel A. Melendez, Staff Writer
IRVINE — The night couldn’t have been more fitting, from Anna Edwards’ solo home run for the game’s only run to Lauren O’Leary’s final delivery for a strikeout looking — it epitomized which shoulders the La Caada High School softball team was riding on to get them this far.
A celebration four years in the making needed all of an hour and 31 minutes, culminating with Catherine Horner flipping off her catcher’s mask and jumping into O’Leary’s shoulders, making official the Spartans’ 1-0 win over Beaumont to capture the CIF-Southern Section Division 5 championship Friday night at Deanna Manning Stadium.
La Caada (26-3) punctuated a stellar season with the hoist of a CIF championship plaque for the first time since winning it all in 1995. A loss to South Hills in last year’s semifinals fueled the Spartans’ drive, but it was a winning attitude from the five seniors who planted a winning attitude as freshmen four years ago.
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KC Mathews in his fourth season at the helm inherited Megan Siepler, Shirley Drange, Kayla McCue, O’Leary and Edwards entering the summer before his first season. It was time to win.
“When I saw this group I knew we had something special,” Mathews said.
Edwards developed into a power hitter who earned an athletic scholarship to Northwestern while O’Leary will wreak havoc with a strong arm at Georgetown. The rest of the pieces fell into place one by one, evidenced by clutch performances from throughout the lineup in a remarkable run to the finals.
But it was Edwards (12 home runs and 31 RBIs this season) and O’Leary (237 strikeouts) manning the ship. The stellar tandem proved it for the last time in their high school careers Friday night.
“Pretty darn fitting,” Mathews said. “With a ball from Anna and a masterpiece from Lauren, it was awesome. Having girls playing at the next level definitely helped.”
First came Edwards, jumping on an 0-2 pitch in the third inning for a solo shot to right-center to give the Spartans’ a lead perhaps only a pitcher like O’Leary could preserve.
Edwards had seen the pitch before. She adjusted like a true star would on the third pitch, proving preparation never goes in vain.
“I knew she was going to throw away,” Edwards said. “We had scouts out there for the Arroyo game and they said when she went away she went high. So I wasn’t expecting something bad, but she missed and I took advantage of it.”
Surprisingly, Edwards sold her power-hittig short.
“I knew I hit it straight on but I didn’t think it was out,” she said. “I thought it was a double or like a single; straight to right-center and then it went out and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is happening.'”
It was all the run support O’Leary needed.
“With Lauren all you need is one run,” Edwards said. “She had so much control. I feel great standing behind her.”
With the lead secured, O’Leary went to work.
“I thought, Anna did her part so it was time for me to do my part,” O’Leary said. “I thought we played really good defense and did really well as a team.”
O’Leary struck out eight, scattered three hits and issued no walks in a complete game to earn her 25th win of the season. To say O’Leary’s been a constant all season would be an understatement, and if anybody would know that would be Horner.
“She’s always effective no matter what she does,” said the junior catcher. “Pretty much all her pitches were working for her. She always has a really strong screw ball. She never missed once, which is really helpful to the rest of the defense because she hits her spots.”
It didn’t seem like the Spartans were their usual self to start the game. They left the bases loaded in the first inning after Drange reached on a fielder’s choice, Horner’s hard line drive for a double and Siepler’s walk on four pitches with one out.
Beaumont’s Alyssa Fuimaono struck out the next two batters to keep the game scoreless. Fuimaono finished with nine strikeouts the No. 2 seeded Cougars (25-5) and baffling a Spartans team that later hit into two double plays.
Mathews wasn’t fazed. He said nothing to his team as they headed to the dugout.
“I stay out of their way,” he said. “I let them do their thing. They’ve been doing it for a long time. When they relax and play softball they’re pretty darn good.”
O’Leary proved that after Edwards’ home run, retiring 15 consecutive batters including 13 in a row after Edwards’ home run.
“That glove started popping a little bit, no?” Mathews asked rhetorically. “She goes to work each and every inning. She’s determined to do her job, and she’s done it for four years.”
O’Leary struck out Fuimaono on five pitches before giving up a single to the shortstop gap to Kristen Neal to put the tying run at first. O’Leary got ahead on Brenadette Moreno with two pitches for an 0-2 count before a meeting ensued in the circle.
“I knew it was a pressure situation so I was just trying to relax everyone,” O’Leary said. “We have a lot of inside jokes so I just started singing a song to (Horner).”
“As soon as she started humming the tune we just cracked,” Horner said, “and it helped.”
The next pitch struck out Moreno, one out away from a mission accomplished. But with the tying run at first, a senior needed to remind everyone it wasn’t over.
“One pitch and this could be over,” she reminded her teammates in another huddle. “We haven’t won yet, so let’s settle down.”
Krista Valdivia came to the plate. She took a ball from O’Leary before throwing two more strikes. Another ball made it a 2-2 count. It was time for a fastball.
Valdivia couldn’t jump on the pitch, watching the fastball settle into Horner’s glove for a strikeout looking. Horner’s mask came off and O’Leary was swarmed by her teammates, celebration at last.
“It was amazing,” Horner said. “Lauren and I talked about it because we got out to the mound and she said, ‘Don’t forget, if we win the game run at me.’
“In the semifinals I just turned around and gave the ball to the umpire. When it happened this time it was so surreal, everything came crashing down.”
Mathews strolled out of the dugout and slowly walked to the circle, soaking the roaring crowd and relishing the smiles throughout.
“That’s their place out there,” he said. “It was gratifying. To see them rewarded like this, I mean, look at their smiles? Pretty amazing.”
La Caada 1
La Caada 001 000 0 — 1 3 1
Beaumont 000 000 0 — 0 3 0
Lauren O’Leary and Catherine Horner; Alyssa Fuimaono and Bernadette Moreno.
HR: Anna Edwards (LC). SO: O’Leary 8; Fuimaono 9. W: O’Leary 25-2. L: Fuimaono 24-5.
Records: La Caada 26-3; Beaumont 25-5.