The Monarchs, despite starting the postseason with seven losses, complete their run through the CIF Southern Section Division I softball playoffs with an 8-2 victory over state No. 1 Orange Lutheran. Their win also denied the Lancers a chance to be No. 1 in one national poll and set up a tough decision about which team should be on top in next week’s final state rankings.
For more on all of the other CIFSS softball finals from the weekend, CLICK HERE.
(Note: The following report is based on quotes and notes from correspondent Harold Abend along with FloSports.com national softball manager Brentt Eads, who both attended Saturday night’s game at Deanna Manning Stadium in Irvine.)
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It’s not as if the Mater Dei girls softball team wasn’t used to being in close games against elite competition. After all, the Monarchs did reach the title game of the prestigious Dave Kops Tournament of Champions in Bullhead City, Ariz., very early in the season.
Still, the way the Monarchs bounced back after losing four times in Trinity League games (including 9-1 and 14-3 the last two times facing Orange Lutheran) and went all the way to the CIF Southern Section Division I championship where they beat Orange Lutheran 8-2 on Saturday night has to be called surprising.
With the loss, Orange Lutheran (30-4) was prevented from locking up the Cal-Hi Sports State Team of the Year honor and also will have to drop from being No. 1 in the FloSports.com FAB 50 national rankings. West Orange of Winter Garden, Fla., which finished 31-1 in winning the Florida Class 9A state title three weeks ago, instead will move up from No. 2.
“It was an amazing season,” said Monarchs’ head coach Tia Meza, a 2000 graduate of the school who will be leaving the team to take over as athletic director in the fall. “We never gave up and put ourselves in great situations all season long. What happened in tournaments and in league didn’t matter. It’s what happens right here that counts.”
Mater Dei pounded out 16 hits against Stanford-bound Maddy Dwyer and broke open a tight game it was leading 3-2 with one run in the top of the sixth inning and then four more in the top of the seventh.
Gabby Sandoval gave up a single run in the first, but the Lancers could only get one additional run off of the senior headed to Southern Oregon. She gave up seven hits but was overpowering at times and kept the Lancers off balance throughout the game.
“Gabby started the season pitching well, but she took a line drive off the forehead at Bullhead and that set her back,” Meza said. “But the way she came back, with heart and determination, and work ethic was amazing.”
“My mindset coming into the game was to try and stay calm and attack the batters and let my defense work behind me,” Sandoval said.
“I thought this game would be a lot closer,” she added. “We felt we needed to keep scoring and put the bat on the ball because we knew they would not go down without a fight.”
Leadoff batter Yaritza Felix was especially potent for Mater Dei. She went 3-for-5 with three RBI and one run scored, including a double that plated the team’s final two runs. No. 5 hitter Donna Friedman also went 3-for-3 with a sacrifice and two RBI.
“It’s hard when you see a team four times,” said Orange Lutheran head coach Steve Miklos. “Their game plan was to put pressure on us and they did it the whole game. You have to take your hats off to them. They executed and got the big hits. We had our opportunities but the difference is we just couldn’t get the big hits.”
With seven losses, it’ll be hard for the Monarchs to jump all the way to No. 1 for next week’s final state rankings, but they did just win the toughest playoff bracket in the nation and topped a who’s who of top-ranked teams along the way.
Those early wins, however, including a split with CIFSS D2 champion Mission Viejo, never caused Mater Dei to drop too far or out of the State Top 20, either. The team was like a great distance runner in track, keeping in contact with the leaders although behind, and then speeding past all of them with a furious kick.
In addition to Mission Viejo, which ended 27-4, also under consideration for the final No. 1 ranking is 28-1 Grand Terrace, which won the CIFSS D3 title on Friday night and is higher in a couple of other national rankings.