By Rick Assad
For more than a month, the Burroughs High softball team has been ranked No. 1 in the CIF Southern Section Division IV.
There are lofty expectations when a team is considered the best and it’s not lost on the Bears who led early and had to fight, scratch and claw before earning a hard-fought 6-5 victory on a single by sophomore Alyssa Morales that catapulted the hosts over El Dorado in a quarterfinal game at Olive Park on Thursday afternoon.
“We made it way too close. They’re a very scrappy team. They can hit really well. We kind of got on our heels a little bit. And once you get on our heels a little bit, it’s kind of hard to reverse that, but I’m more proud of my girls for reversing that,” Burroughs coach Doug Nicol said.
Nicol went on: “We walked a couple of batters. We made some errors and we played untypical of what we usually do,” he said. “But the sign of a good team is being able to fight through those mistakes and still win against a good team.”
On deck for Burroughs is a semifinal date with Fullerton (22-6 and 5-5 for third in the Freeway League) on Saturday with a 3:15 p.m. first pitch.
The Bears (24-4 and 9-1 in the Pacific League for first place) will be facing pitcher Malaya Majam-Finch, who is arguably the best freshman in the nation and the niece of softball royalty, Jennie Finch.
Finch’s accomplishments could fill a book and they include University of Arizona All-American where she led the Wildcats to the 2001 Women’s College World Series title, two-time Olympic medal winner including gold in 2004 and silver in 2008, ranked the second greatest player of all time and being inducted into the Softball Hall of Fame.
The bottom of the ninth began with junior Phoebe Spangler getting her third hit of the game, a single to right center.
Junior Alyssa Rosales singled to left field as Spangler, who singled in the second inning, went to second base.
At this point, there was palpable tension in the air.
Senior Lilly Lewis struck out swinging as did freshman Karlee Earl.
“I thought the team definitely had its ups and downs throughout the game,” said Lewis, who singled in the fifth. “We could’ve done a bit better on defense to help out our pitcher [Stevie Dabbadie], but we fought for each other, and we were able to pull through in the end.”
Lewis spoke of the extra innings and how emotional they were.
“Those extra innings were filled with so much pressure and I felt like I was holding my breath, but once we scored that winning run, I felt like I could let it all out,” she said.
Morales walked to the plate and then delivered the winning blow to left field as Spangler raced home with the winning run.
“I just took a deep breath and just hoped for the best. I was just thinking, okay, you’ve got this, hit the ball and have some fun,” Morales said of her game-winning hit.
In front of a large crowd, especially for Burroughs’ side along first base, the Bears took a 5-0 lead after three innings.
The Golden Hawks (16-14 and 6-3 in the North Hills League for first) didn’t sit still and rallied with four runs in the sixth and tied it at 5-5 in the seventh.
El Dorado sent eight batters to the dish in the sixth with Carly Parmenter swatting a two-run triple to right field and Jess Cherms adding a run-producing single to left. Gianna Baca also chipped in with a sacrifice fly to center field.
The Golden Hawks weren’t done as they scored a run in the next inning when Peyton Clark delivered a one-out single to left field and eventually scored the run.
The Bears began the game with a solo run in the first inning when junior Gizelle Rangsiwawong (two hits) singled in senior Rachel Little, who reached on a two-base error by the center fielder.
“After the ninth inning, all I felt was relief. As a senior, at this point, any game could be our last and I am beyond happy that today was not our last,” said Little, who singled in the sixth inning and went to second base after senior Dabbadie also singled.
Little added: “We were very strong today and showed why we deserve to be in this position,” she said. “I am very proud of how well we did.”
In the bottom of the third, the Bears scored four runs on two hits and an error tossed in.
Spangler’s bases-clearing double to right center scored three runs and made it 4-0 and Earl’s sacrifice fly extended the advantage to 5-0.
Per usual, Dabbadie, who singled twice, was magnificent in the circle for the Bears as she scattered seven hits across nine innings, struck out seven and walked three.
Hailey Skuller came in and relieved Haley Tucker in the circle for the Golden Hawks and was impressive, working six and two-thirds innings, fanning six with one walk and seven hits yielded.
Tucker went two-plus frames, allowing four hits, two walks and two hit batters.