It only makes good sense when teams beef up their nonleague schedules. Add that to an already competitive schedule in league, and there are the makings of a team that is hopeful of being well-prepared for the playoffs.
That’s exactly the scenario La Canada finds itself in this season. The Spartans (25-4-1) are top-seeded in CIF-Southern Section Division 5 and are back in the postseason final where they’ll meet Beaumont on Saturday at 12:30 at Irvine’s Deanna Manning Stadium.
La Canada has been unchallenged during the playoffs, but then came Nipomo earlier this week and the Spartans were in a dogfight. Lauren Cox walked seven batters, and the Spartans didn’t score until the sixth inning in a 1-0 victory in the semifinals.
But thanks to a revamped schedule, La Canada has had what it takes to overcome adversity.
“This team has been able to take the challenges and learn from them and apply those lessons to games in the future,” La Canada coach KC Mathews said.
It started early in the season with key wins against division opponents such as San Dimas (3-2) and Arroyo (11-5). The Spartans also faced Fountain Valley and earned a 1-0 victory. There also were wins and losses in Orange County, where La Canada got past Marina (13-11) but came up short against Edison (3-0). Taking part in the Thousand Oaks tournament in the middle of the Rio Hondo League season also paid dividends. Sure, the Spartans lost to Dos Pueblos (1-0) and Thousand Oaks (4-1), but lessons were learned.
“This group really was capable of not focusing on wins and losses, but what we can learn from each game,” Mathews said. “They’ve done a great job of doing that this year and it’s helped us tremendously.”
It prepared La Canada for what turned out to be a strong league season in which La Canada and Monrovia played to a 14-inning scoreless tie and the Spartans lost to San Marino 3-2 at home.
“The Rio Hondo League does a great job of getting us prepared,” Mathews said. “When you’re facing (Monrovia pitcher) Adrienne (Guerra) and (San Marino’s) Michelle (Floyd) it can only help you get ready for the playoffs.
“We saw some of the best pitching around and it helped us prepare for this part of our season.”
The consensus among Division 5 coaches was the Spartans would be back to the finals. La Canada is back to defend its title, but that never was a given for the Spartans.
“They’re excited and feel fortunate to be back there,” Mathews said. “They’re seeing their rewards for working hard, but we didn’t spend all year talking about getting back to the finals. That’s the result of all the work they’ve put in.”
And thanks to that tough schedule, the Spartans weren’t just waiting around getting ready for the title game. They didn’t have that luxury.
“The schedule that we played we didn’t have the luxury of looking past an Edison or a Hart or a Thousand Oaks or any of those teams,” Mathews said.