By Andrew Campa
IRVINE – The South Hills High School softball team had been counted out so many times this season there perhaps was no better way to respond to fans and detractors than by winning a CIF-Southern Section ring. While the plan was in place, defending Division 5 champion Whittier Christian was an unwilling partner. The No. 1-seeded Heralds rallied behind another brilliant effort from Courtney McGee in claiming their third division title in six years with a 4-0 win in Friday’s championship game at Deanna Manning Stadium. (To continue, click thread).
The loss ended South Hills’ attempt at a third crown.
The San Antonio League runners-up finished 23-8-1. Whittier Christian finished 25-7.
“I’m proud of these girls and what they accomplished,” South Hills coach Scott Fisch, who concluded his 23rd year of coaching. “This is disappointing because we came here to win. That was our ultimate goal.”
The Huskies knocked off three league champions in the postseason behind a combination of timely pitching, hitting and defense.
On Friday, the latter two failed them as the Huskies committed crucial errors while the offense struggled against McGee (23-6).
The game was scoreless heading into the top of third when the Huskies’ Sydney La Follette (18-5) surrendered her first hit, a single, to Heralds sophomore Kat Martene.
She then induced a fly ball to left from leadoff batter Amanda Perez that was dropped.
Despite the error, La Follette battled back and recorded a fielder’s choice at third for the second out.
The force play set up a dramatic showdown with McGee, the Heralds No. 3 batter.
The Cal Baptist-bound McGee showed her dominance transcended the mound by hitting a 2-2 fastball to right for a critical double that put the visitors up 2-0.
“She hit a good pitch. You have to give her credit,” La Follette said. “I made some mistakes and our defense had an error.”
La Follette did limit the damage to two runs, though.
Unfortunately for South Hills, Whittier Christian scored two more runs in an eerily similar fifth inning.
The Heralds received a one-out single from Martene before La Follette hit Amanda Perez.
The Heralds then sacrificed the runners to second and third, but that also opened up a base for McGee.
The Huskies played it safe by intentionally walking McGee to loaded the bases.
The plan backfired when Bekah Kikuchi bounced a first-pitch fastball deep into the hole at short.
The ball was gloved, but a throw to third was high and wide and allowed Martene and Perez to score for a 4-0 lead.
The final two runs ultimately didn’t matter as the Huskies failed to pressure McGee, who registered her third one-hitter of the playoffs to go along with two no-hitters.
Sophomore catcher Britney Rodriguez, a source of much inspiration for her strength following the death of her brother Tony in March, started the game well for South Hills with a two-out single in the first.
“I expected her to be tough and she got a good fastball,” said Rodriguez, who was 1 for 2 with a walk. “I thought we’d be able to hit her.”
Fisch credited some of McGee’s success to a liberal strike zone.
“The umpire was giving her that corner and more,” Fisch said. “She lives on the outside and if she gets help she’s tough to beat.”
Rodriguez walked to lead off the fourth and advanced to second, the Huskies’ only baserunner to do so, on a sacrifice from Keira Protell.
McGee responded by recording flyball outs from Kristen Stewart and Alexandra Robles.
The walk to Rodriguez was South Hills’ final offensive act as McGee retired the next 12 batters.
“We expected to win,” Rodriguez said. “A lot of the girls are angry because we know nobody believed we’d make it here. We proved people wrong by making it here and we didn’t play our best game.”
La Follette (18-5) picked up the tough loss despite surrendering only five hits and striking out three.
“The most disappointing thing is that our defense has been so solid this year,” Fisch said. “This happens sometimes and you have to take the good with the bad.”