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Valley Christian tamed by Kaiser in seventh inning

CIF-SOUTHERN SECTION DIVISION IV SOFTBALL PLAYOFFS

By Loren Kopff

Valley Christian’s softball team will be thinking long and hard about the one that got away. The Lady Crusaders had a pair of two-run leads against Kaiser in last Friday’s California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division IV quarterfinal game but failed to hold on to what would have been another win against another seeded team.
The Cats scored twice in the top of the seventh and rallied to eliminate V.C. 5-3 in a game that was dominated by the hosts through the first four innings.
“We talked about this game and up until now, we didn’t feel as if we had played our best game,” said V.C. head coach Jim Snyder. “We felt we had to come out and play our best today and we fell a little bit short. We just didn’t execute our game plan.”
Kaiser, the seventh seeded team and Sunkist League champions, scored the game winning runs in the top of the seventh. Senior pitcher Kelsey Hughes walked Danielle Jeffress and two outs later, was facing Krystel Gabbard, who had been on base her past two at-bats. With a 1-1 count on Gabbard, Hughes’ next pitch got away and Jeffress advanced to third. Hughes would eventually walk Gabbard, then Destiney Henderson was safe on an infield single to load the bases.
That set the stage for Linda Garcia, who grounded to freshman shortstop Emily Morrow.
But when her throw to senior third baseman Vanessa Sanchez to force courtesy runner Marisa Barry was wild, it allowed Jeffress and Barry to come home.
Snyder said the wild pitch which allowed Jeffress to move to third was critical because without it, she most likely would have been out at third on Henderson’s at-bat.
“We were pitching around [Gabbard],” Snyder said. “We had a little bit of confusion and we wanted to intentionally walk her. Hughes hasn’t intentionally walked anybody all year and we lost a little bit of focus there.”
The Olympic League champions (18-9 overall) got on the board in the bottom of the first when Morrow sent a blooper over the head of Kaiser shortstop Jordyn Buffum. Morrow then advanced on a passed ball, stole third and came home on a double steal when Gabbard walked junior second baseman Leanne Garrels. Garrels and Morrow would work a double steal, giving V.C. a 1-0 lead.
In the next inning, senior center fielder Ashley Snyder singled up the middle and scored with two outs when Morrow’s infield single was thrown away. The Cats cut the lead in half in the top of the third but the Lady Crusaders answered back when junior catcher Taylor Winters led off the fourth with a base hit to right. Again with two outs, junior designated player Megan Collier sent a slow roller back to Gabbard, who slipped as she tried to pick up the ball. Morrow would deliver another hit to make it a 3-1 lead. Morrow had three of the six hits V.C. would collect but also was stellar on defense with six putouts and one assist including getting all three outs in the sixth.
“We have a great senior corps on this team that provides a tremendous amount of leadership that we’ve had all year,” Jim Snyder said. “But we have some excellent freshmen coming up and Emily Morrow is one of them. She plays that position extremely well and she played well today.”
Kaiser tied the game in the fifth on a sacrifice fly from Jesslene Contreras and Gabbard’s base hit just inside of third base. All five runs the Cats scored came with two outs. Hughes scattered six hits and struck out three and for the most part, held the hot-hitting Cats in check. Kaiser entered the game with a .368 team average and had six starters batting at least .361. But Hughes walked five with four of them scoring.
“Kelsey has done an outstanding job for us all year,” Jim Snyder said. “One of our top priorities of our game plan was to bear down on the front end of the leadoff hitter. We’ve been giving up some untimely walks all year and normally to the leadoff hitter. It was the front-end walks that were hurting us to some degree today.”
The unseeded Lady Crusaders were facing their second straight seeded opponent, having edged second seeded La Quinta 4-3 on May 22. A win over Kaiser would have put V.C. in the semifinals against sixth seeded La Habra. V.C. has not been to the semifinals since 2006 when it advanced all the way to the championship game.
“We were feeling good about that,” Jim Snyder said of the early lead. “We felt like we had the early momentum and then we let it get away. We don’t consider the La Quinta game an upset. We knew we could beat that team and we knew we could beat Kaiser today. We weren’t looking ahead; we know we would have had our hands full with La Habra next Tuesday. But we certainly felt that Kaiser was a team that we could play with and beat.
“We’re very pleased with the season,” he added. “These girls worked really, really hard. I don’t think anybody expected us to be here. I’m very proud of them.”

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