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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
Following an 11-4 lost to Loara High on Apr. 2, it wasn’t looking too good for the Valley Christian High softball team. The Lady Crusaders had just one win in their first 13 games as they prepared to open up Olympic League action.
But fueled by a three-run bottom of the first inning and another stellar performance from senior pitcher Anna Collier, Valley Christian defeated Village Christian High 4-1 last Thursday to clinch third place and an automatic berth in next week’s California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division IV playoffs.
Some could say that Valley Christian is in the playoffs as the third place team from the Olympic League and others can say that the team is in the postseason despite an overall record of 4-18, the school’s worst mark since going 5-12 in 2000. But first-year head coach Nicole McGahey sees it a different way.
“I’d rather them see us as a team that does not give up and fights to the very end,” she suggested. “We want to be a force to be reckoned with. I feel really confident with what our girls have done.”
“Every year I’ve been on this team, our preseason…we’ve played highly competitive teams,” said senior shortstop Chanel Varney. “So we don’t go into that thinking we’re going to dominate, but rather to get better. We use that as our opportunity to really improve for [league] play. We know that league is a totally different level and we know that we’re competitive here.”
After a perfect top of the first from Ciller, freshman left fielder Alex Burgess-Allen got the Valley Christian offense going when she singled on the second pitch thrown by Carley Gay. One out later, Varney and junior center fielder Brianna Lerma each singled to load the bases. On the very next pitch, freshman first baseman Katie Morewood’s base hit to right field brought in the first two runs. Collier then followed that up with a groundout to score Lerma.
In the third inning, Valley Christian added its fourth run when Gay walked junior third baseman Kylie Carr to lead off the frame. After a groundout from Varney moved her to second, Lerma came up and doubled to left field for the final run. Through the first three innings, Valley Christian collected five of its eight hits. In the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, Valley Christian would have three hits and would strand two runners.
But the story would be Collier’s pitching and the defense behind her. In the top of the second, Village Christian was threatening to score and it began with Katie Ross reaching on an error. But freshman catcher Kyla Nunez-O’Leary threw her out at second. That play proved costly for the visiting Crusaders because they would put two runners on with two outs before Collier got Dakota Morgan to fly out to Lerma.
“That was a huge out for us,” McGahey said. “That was a fast runner, too. We knew that Kyla had to step on that right away and she knew that too.”
After that, Collier settled down a bit and threw six pitches in the third and 11 in the fourth before Morgan scored Village Christian’s only run in the fifth when she doubled and came home on an infield single from Emma Wilson. Collier scattered six hits, struck out one and did not walk a batter in her final regular season home game.
Of the four-year varsity pitchers Valley Christian has had since 1999, Collier ranks second in overall victories with 35 and in league victories with 20. Only Melissa Dykema (2003-2006) is ahead of Collier with 53 overall wins and a sparking 24-1 league mark.
“Anna is just like a rock for us,” Varney said. “It’s not only her spots, but her spin just really throws off people. Her pitching style is very different from anyone else in the league and I think that’s her secret to her success. She’s very dependable, she’s a really hard worker and she’s emotionally tough.”
Burgess-Allen, Lerma and Varney all went two for three as Valley Christian, which fell to Maranatha High 6-2 this past Tuesday, finished 3-5 in league action. Valley Christian, which had previously lost to Village Christian 12-8, had losing streaks of four, eight and four before splitting its final four games. It will begin the playoffs either on Tuesday in a wild card game or Thursday in a first-round game. The playoff brackets will be released on Monday. Valley Christian has failed to get out of the first round three straight seasons after advancing to the quarterfinals in 2012. Valley Christian has advanced to the playoffs eight straight seasons and 13 out of the last 14.
“There were days where I thought there’s no way we’ll ever going to make this,” McGahey said. “And then other days where we would come out and I would watch our girls practice and think they have the potential. It’s just putting it to use at the right time.”
“It’s really exciting to be able to win,” Varney said. “It’s kind of ideal for us. I was just looking to come out and have some fun. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I think we were just all in a great mood and in great spirits today.”
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