SportStars Magazine

The Fight For Four

Mitty Softball Endured Some Bumps En Route To A Fourth Straight CCS Title •

Story by DAMIN ESPER | Photos by VALERIE SHOAPS

Julia Lucas met up with her friends for a postgame celebration behind the stands at PAL Stadium in San Jose. The Archbishop Mitty High School-San Jose senior catcher exclaimed, “Oh my god, I’m so happy right now!”

With good reason. The Monarchs had just finished off a 9-5 win over St. Francis-Mountain View in the Central Coast Section Open Division championship game on May 27. That Mitty won a CCS title isn’t really a surprise — the Monarchs have now won four in a row, six out of seven, 11 out of 13 and 15 in sum. No, the surprise might have been that this Mitty team had to overcome some obstacles, not the least of which was St. Francis, which won the West Catholic Athletic League regular season championship and defeated the Monarchs twice.

Instead, Mitty jumped out to a 9-0 lead before holding off a furious Lancers rally — St. Francis loaded the bases in the seventh inning before sophomore Savanna Smith finished off the complete game.

The Monarchs finished the season 22-6. Coach Joe Gron said this year’s team had a definite progression during the season.

“Absolutely,” he said. “About halfway through the season. We had some new faces and we struggled chemistry-wise and getting things going. Once we got about halfway and that first loss coming around with St. Francis, I think that kind of opened up some eyes with the girls, and I think they really started coming together big-time in the second half and just started really playing as one group like we’re used to playing like.”

Savanna Smith fires a pitch during the CCS final on May 27.

Said Smith of the two losses to the Lancers during WCAL play, “I think it was a humbling point during those two games. We can’t just assume that we’re going to win everything. We showed that today. We showed our hard work and determination just to beat them for the first time this season and it was amazing.”

St. Francis had come back from a winless WCAL season in 2016 to make the CCS Open Division final. New coach Mike Oakland led the turnaround after moving over from the baseball program, which won CCS crowns in three of the last four years. The transformation was astounding. The softball team finished the year 23-8.

Coming into the final, it wasn’t clear what kind of game it might be. St. Francis won the first meeting 1-0, then won the next 9-8 in 10 innings.

This time, Mitty got on the board in the second when No. 9 hitter Hana DeGuzman scratched a run-scoring, two-out single off the glove of Lancers shortstop Hannah Damore. The latter Hannah was playing in guarding against a bunt — had she been at normal depth, it would have been a ground out.

More luck went the Monarchs’ way in the third when Smith lofted a two-out pop fly behind second base. The ball caromed off of Damore and second baseman Alexandra Attard for a single. It was a very tough play, but if it had hung up in the air just a smidge longer, St. Francis would have been out of the inning. Instead, a run scored and Lucas came to the plate with two runners on.

She promptly launched a bomb deep into left-center field. By the time left fielder Claudia Costello ran it down, two more runs scored, Lucas was standing on second base and it was 4-0 Mitty.

“I was struggling to see the ball in my first at bat and the first couple of pitches,” Lucas said. “That pitch, I saw and I knew I wanted it and I was very happy it went over Claudia’s head.”

Said Gron, “It was a huge hit. That kind of gave us a little room to feel, not comfortable, but relax. Savanna could relax a little bit more on the mound. When you’ve got four runs instead of two runs or one run, it’s a little bit easier to go out there and throw strikes.”

Added Diamond Holland, “Julia is always the one coming through.”

Holland had a big hit of her own in the fourth when she sent a blast to the wall in right-center field for a two-run homer. When the freshman was waved in, she hadn’t realized she had a shot at her first high school home run.

Players exchange hugs in celebration at the center of the diamond.

“I wasn’t sure,” she said. “I didn’t know it went that far.”

Through the first five innings, Smith allowed no runs on four hits. In the sixth, St. Francis finally broke through thanks to some timely hitting as well as some good luck of its own. Five runs came in and there was action deep in the right field corner of PAL Stadium in lieu of a bullpen. But Smith hung tough and got out of the inning.

Then, in the seventh, more trouble. The Lancers loaded the bases with one out on three hits. Jordan Schuring — the St. Francis starting pitcher — came to the plate with a chance to tie the score.

“Nerve-wracking,” the sophomore Smith said of the moment. “Honestly it’s one of the highest-pressure situations that I’ve ever been in.”

Lucas came to the circle for a chat. She said, “’Hey, it’s just you and me right now and that’s all we’re going to worry about. We’re just going to pitch and punch it through and we’re going to hope for the best right now.’”

Smith and Lucas battled through five pitches before Smith nailed the inside corner for a called strike three. Monet Guido then tapped the ball back to the mound and Smith threw to first to finish it off.

“Honestly that’s the most guts I’ve ever seen come out of her, I think it’s amazing,” Lucas said of Smith. “She showed so much heart those last couple of innings.”

Diamond Holland takes a warmup swing prior to one of her at bats.

Holland said the team wasn’t worried.

“Sav’s our ace pitcher,” she said. “We kind of just stayed calm, cool and collected. We knew that she would come out (of it).”

If a championship team needs to be tested, this year’s Monarchs definitely were.

“Towards the end (of the regular season), we said play for the seniors, play for each other, because this is going to be the only 2017 Archbishop Mitty High School softball team ever,” Lucas said. “So we got that through our head and decided to start playing for each other rather than for ourselves.”

Said Gron, “Losing that round-robin stung a little bit. After that, they were really focused on the next part of our season which was the (WCAL) tournament. They won the tournament, came through that with flying colors. Then the next season was CCS.

“They just did what they’ve been doing all season long. We’ve been down in games and they just fought, fought, fought because they know the lineup one through nine is pretty tough. They definitely persevered and just played well as a team, one after another.”  ϑ

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