There will be no second straight State Team of the Year and no second straight mythical national title for the Diablos after they lose 1-0 in CIF Southern Section Division II final. Thunderbirds avenged two earlier losses, but win game that means the most.
Last year’s Mission Viejo team still qualifies as one of the state’s best ever. For a list of some of the best we would rank, CLICK HERE.
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By Brentt Eads
The old adage about how hard it is to beat a quality team three times in a season was a lesson that the state and nation’s No. 1 ranked softball team from Mission Viejo (30-1) learned the hard way on Friday night in the CIF-Southern Section Division II championship game at Bill Barber Stadium in Irvine as state No. 3 Yucaipa (31-3) won 1-0 in a major upset.
Mission Viejo lost just once last season too to a team it had beaten before, but that loss came before the playoffs. And while the Diablos handed Yucaipa two losses earlier this season, including one in the title game of the prestigious Dave Kops Tournament of Champions in Bullhead City, Ariz., another lesson they will learn about the final state and national rankings is the hardware rule. That’s the one that says the team that wins the game that matters the most and gets to raise the hardware at the end also gets to be ranked higher.
Yucaipa, which had moved up to No. 2 in the state this week, is now in the driver’s seat to be named State Team of the Year and also has a chance to be No. 1 in the final FloSports FAB 50 national rankings (previously labeled this year FullCountSoftball FAB 50). Brooke Bolinger of Yucaipa gave up six hits, but made big pitches in the clutch, struck out seven and got the historic win over Mission Viejo.
When the playoff brackets were announced several weeks ago, the expectation was that the two teams would meet in the finals and that’s exactly what happened in a showdown between the two Southern California powers.
The finals matchup also featured two of the top senior pitchers in the nation in Mission Viejo’s Taylor McQuillin, the 2014 National Gatorade Player of the Year who is headed to the University of Arizona, and Yucaipa’s Bolinger, a Nevada signee who had led her team on a 17-game win streak going back to its 3-2 loss to Mission Viejo on April 4 in the semifinals of the Michelle Carew Classic.
McQuillin would finish with 15 strikeouts Friday night and Bollinger seven, but the game looked like it would be anything but a pitcher’s duel in the first inning.
Yucaipa’s first two batters, senior outfielder Annie Bakenhus and sophomore second baseman Megan Martin, led off with singles but McQuillin induced a pop-out to the catcher and then closed the inning with two strikeouts.
Bollinger also gave up two hits in her first inning and the Diablos loaded the bases with only one out, but the Thunderbird pitcher struck out the next two batters to escape the threat.
Both pitchers then settled down and scattered five hits each without allowing a run until the top of the fifth when McQuillin seemed to be cruising through another dominating inning. She struck out the first two batters — giving her nine at that point – but Martin smashed a two-out double that hit the bottom of the fence.
Junior third baseman Jordan Green then singled to centerfield and Mission Viejo senior centerfielder Alyssa Palomino’s throw home beat Martin to the plate, but she was ruled safe due to obstruction as she was rounding third base.
That proved to be the only offense either team could muster despite Yucaipa totaling eight hits and Mission Viejo six.
Bolinger gave up a leadoff single in the bottom of the fourth and then retired 10 straight batters until a one-out walk in the last inning.
The season then came down to the a thrilling match-up between Bolinger and Palomino, an All-American who was selected in January to play for the USA Junior National Team and will join McQuillin this fall at Arizona.
One of the top home run hitters in the country, Palomino ran the count full with the tying run on second and fouled off a few pitches before stroking a soft flair that junior shortstop Mallorie Cross easily corralled to set off the Yucaipa dogpile around Bolinger in the pitching circle.
“I was really hoping she would catch it,” the pitcher laughed after the game. “We were ready to win this game, we knew we would come out and play with fire, which we did.”
Bollinger admitted she pitched “the game of my lifetime, it was so much fun” and said her curve was the pitch that was working the best Friday night.
“It was our goal since Day 1 to make it to the finals and losing twice to Mission Viejo actually made us more determined to win tonight,” she added. “We know Taylor’s a great pitcher and her riseball was on. We were swinging and missing at a lot of outside pitches, but we found a way to win and get it done when it counted.”
Yucaipa head coach David Kivett said of the game-deciding play, the run scored in the top of the fifth, “It’s funny, that’s a play you see happen several times during the season and it’s not called. Tonight Megan had to go five feet out of her way and it was properly called. She did what we told her to do, put on the breaks but when the throw was up the line she went home. That play made all the difference in the world.”
Brentt Eads is the director of FloSports Softball, which is part of the FloSports group based in Austin, Texas, and has taken over the FullCountSoftball.com web site that Eads began earlier this year. Brentt also has been a long-time colleague over the years with Cal-Hi Sports co-founder and publisher Mark Tennis. Mark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports