La Habra High School’s date with history came crashing down as Kaiser rallied for a 5-4 victory in 10 innings to oust the Highlanders from the CIF-Southern Section playoffs in a Division 4 semifinal. La Habra was seeking to win its first softball title since 1981.
Below is the story from our sister paper, the San Bernardino Sun.
By Louis Brewster
San Bernardino Sun
FONTANA – Kaiser’s Kardiac Kids, seemingly most comfortable when facing long odds, are returning to the CIF-SS Division 4 softball finals this weekend.
Crystal Cerpa’s bases-loaded, two-out, walk-off single in the 10th inning gave the Cats a 5-4 victory in Tuesday’s semifinal contest at Kaiser High School. La Habra was seeking its first championship game appearance since 1981.
It marked the second straight game Kaiser (22-8) won with its final at-bat. It’s also becoming commonplace for coach John Stevens, who saw his team rally after trailing 4-0 in the top half of the fourth inning.
“This is not anything new,” said Stevens, in his fourth year at the Kaiser helm. “We’ve been doing it. These kids thrive off each other. They keep battling, they feed off each other.
“La Habra’s not accustomed to this situation.”
Cerpa was among the big feeders to be sure, pulling a Taylor Pierce pitch into the left-field corner to score Jordyn Buffum, who opened the inning with an infield hit. The hit made a winner out of batterymate Krystel Gabbard.
Linda Garcia was the other Kaiser bat. She drove in a pair of runs in the fourth off La Habra (23-9) starter Vanessa Ciocatto and scored on an error.
In the fifth, Garcia tied the game with another single and almost gave Kaiser a 5-4 lead. However, Destiny Henderson was called out at third on the play before pinch-runner Marisa Barry could cross the plate.
For La Habra coach Frank McCarroll, the difference in the game was the ability to make plays late in the game.
“We didn’t have any offense late in the game, we just stopped hitting,” he said. “We didn’t execute late in the game, and those kinds of things hurt you.”
La Habra struck first with Pierce singling in Shanin Thomas, who boarded on an error in the second. Pierce later cranked a no-doubt-it, three-run homer in the fourth off Gabbard.
“It was a rose ball that didn’t rise,” said Gabbard about the 245-foot blast to center. “That happens. But my team picked me up.”
Pierce’s blast was the extent of the Highlanders’ offense.
Gabbard stranded the bases loaded in the fifth and allowed just two baserunners thereafter, including a leadoff double by Racquel Manzo in the eighth. However, La Habra was unable to advance the runner as Gabbard retired the next nine batters.
“When we were down 4-0, I wasn’t too worried because I knew our bats would wake up,” said Gabbard (17-5), who finished with nine strikeouts. “We’ve been here before, it’s not like we get stage fright.
“The toughest part was waiting for the bats to come around. I was getting antsy.”
McCarroll inserted Pierce on the mound in the fifth inning after Kaiser tied the score.
“(Ciocatto) had thrown about 120 pitches and it was hot and humid,” he said. “I wasn’t taking any chances with her. I have complete confidence in Taylor and it’s something we had done the last two or three weeks. She was something different for their hitters.”