_____________________________ ST. NORBERT CHURCH           RATES ________________________         EBOOK


CIF-SS DIV. 5 SOFTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP-Valley Christian holds off late rally to capture program’s third divisional championship

The Valley Christian High softball team defeated Liberty High 8-7 last Saturday in the CIF-Southern Section Division 5 finals. It’s the third such divisional championship for the Defenders and first since 1995. PHOTO BY LOREN KOPFF.

May 19, 2024

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on X

IRVINE-The young Valley Christian High softball team, with one senior in the starting lineup, capped off the CIF-Southern Section Division 5 playoffs as if it has done this before. For the second straight game and third time in the playoffs, the Defenders muscled their way through another offensive contest sprinkled with shoddy defense.

But on the biggest stage, with the V.C. faithful decked out in their maroon and gold ‘Defend The Valley’ shirts cheering the team on, the Defenders had just enough to stave off a furious comeback by Liberty High and escaped with an 8-7 win last Saturday afternoon at Deanna Manning Stadium at Colonel Bill Barber Marine Corps Memorial Park in the championship game. It’s the third softball divisional title for the school, but the first since winning back to back crowns in 1994 and 1995. V.C. had also lost in the 1975 and 2006 championship games.

“I’m at a loss for words,” said V.C. head coach Chet Kingery. “I’m very happy for the girls, the school, everyone who supported us all year long, the boosters…everybody. I’m very, very happy we were able to do this for them and show them that their hearts and everything is in the right place for us. To do this for them means a lot. For me, as a coach, they trusted me to give me the job three years ago and to build this program.”

The sixth-ranked Defenders (19-6) had built leads of 4-0, 6-2 and 8-3 before watching the Bison score four times in the bottom of the sixth inning. Then in the bottom of the seventh with one out, Yasmine Lopez doubled to the right field gap. Following a groundout, which moved pinch runner Andi Clabough to third base, junior shortstop Britton Brown raced all the way to foul territory to catch a pop-up from Lissette Quinones to end the contest.

Valley Christian High junior first baseman Kayla Martin delivers a double in the first inning in last Saturday’s CIF-Southern Section Division 5 championship game against Liberty High. Her hit would drive in sophomore catcher Peyton Kingery for the game’s first run. V.C. would hold off a late rally for an 8-7 victory. PHOTO BY STEVE FERICEAN.


“It’s absolutely amazing,” said sophomore catcher Peyton Kingery. “I can’t even put it into words. I’m so excited and I’m so proud of my team. That was a total team win right there; we never gave up on anybody. It feels amazing.”

She is one of three sophomores in the starting lineup, along with three juniors and three freshmen with designated player Bella Bulthuis the lone senior. And it was Kingery who got things going in the top of the first with a one-out single to right field. Two pitches later, she came home on a double from junior first baseman Kayla Martin.

The Defenders, who had knocked off second-ranked St. Bonaventure High in the semifinals, third-ranked Providence High in the quarterfinals and now fifth-ranked Liberty, added to their lead in the next inning when sophomore third baseman Brianna Ramirez led off with a double down the right field line. After Bulthuis reached on an error freshman pitcher Rachel Zhang was safe on a one-out fielder’s choice, allowing Ramirez to score. Two batters later, Kingery singled to center to make it 3-0 and another error would send Zhang home.

The Bison would cut that lead in half in their half of the inning but V.C. kept scoring with two in the third. Freshman right fielder Tallulah Ireland singled to right with one out and Ramirez reached on an error. Two batters later, junior left fielder Zoee Barrett singled to make it 6-2.

Now up 6-3, Janessa Giugliano walked sophomore center fielder Choyce Chambers to begin the fourth inning. She would steal second on a 1-1 count to Kingery and scored on the next pitch after a base hit to right. V.C. added its final run when Giugliano walked Martin to lead off the sixth and with two outs later, surrendered a run-scoring single to Ramirez, who went two for four, scored twice and drove in a run.

“Brianna is a great kid,” said Chet Kingery. “She’s one of those fun kids to coach. She just works hard, gets after it and she just goes about her business. She’s always smiling and just a good kid to be around, a good kid in your lineup and just a great person to have in your dugout.”

But even an 8-3 lead after five innings wasn’t a sure thing considering how the playoffs had been for the Defenders. They rallied from deficits of 3-0 and 5-3 against Shadow Hills High to win 8-5 in eight innings and came back from deficits of 5-3, 6-4, and 13-10 against St. Bonaventure to score three in the top of the seventh, then added eight more in the ninth for a 21-13 dramatic win.

“Just coming off that game, we knew we had to keep the energy from the last game and just keep our bats going from that game and just keep playing as a team,” said Peyton Kingery of the semifinal win. “That’s all we did for this game, and it was amazing to watch and amazing to be a part of.”

Probably the defining moment of the game came in the bottom of the fifth with the Defenders leading 7-3. With one out, Mariah Solario beat out an infield single and two pitches later, Haley Kitzerow sent a deep fly ball to Chambers who leaped above the top of the fence and snagged a potential home run. That would be huge because of the big sixth inning the Bison had.

Valley Christian High sophomore center fielder Choyce Chambers goes up to rob Haley Kitzerow of what would have been a two-run home run in the bottom of the fifth inning in last Saturday’s CIF-Southern Section Division 5 championship game. V.C. held on to defeat Liberty High 8-7 for the program’s third softball divisional championship. PHOTO BY STEVE FERICEAN.


Lopez led off the bottom of the sixth with a double to right field and went to third on a one-out single from Quinones. Zhang then hit leadoff hitter Attiana Thompson to load the bases before a groundout from Kaylee Fraund made it 8-4. Two pitches later, a double from Julianna Larson plated a couple and a double from Solario brought in pinch runner Cameron Rutkoff to make it a one-run contest heading into the seventh with the bottom half of Liberty’s lineup coming up.

“Everybody does research and I knew they were going to be good,” said Chet Kingery. “Attiana Thompson is a great hitter, and I did not want to see her in the bottom of the seventh at all. They have great ballplayers; their pitcher is phenomenal. I knew our [four-run lead] wasn’t going to be enough. I kept telling myself [standing] in the third base [coach’s] box, ‘we have to get more runs, we have to get more runs’, just because [Liberty] is a good hitting team and at any moment, they were going to do what they did.

“And they scored four runs in the bottom of the sixth,” he added. “I knew that was going to happen. We just had to keep the foot on the gas pedal and score as many runs as we can.”

“When they started coming back, I definitely was a little nervous,” said Peyton Kingery. “But I knew for a fact that we would just come out on top and just keep doing what the team does.”

Despite both teams combining for at least one hit in 13 of the 14 innings, the defense wasn’t the best for a championship game. While Liberty made four errors, the Defenders had three miscues leading to five of the seven runs being unearned. Through the 20 regular season games, V.C. made 26 errors, but in the playoffs, the defense has made 11 blunders.

“These girls don’t get to play in front of this big crowd often,” said Chet Kingery. “So, when you get out there on the big stage, it’s intimidating. Kids do get jitters. So, the faster we can slow our heart rates down, the better we can be on defense. Sometimes we did, sometimes we didn’t.”

Peyton Kingery, who had what is believed to be a school record nine runs batted in against St. Bonaventure, went four for five and drove in a pair. It’s the fifth time this season she has had at least four hits in a game. Bulthuis also went two for four as the Defenders had a dozen hits. In the five playoff games, V.C. has pounded out 68 hits, and it has at least one more game to go as the Defenders will be playing in the CIF Southern California Regionals.

“I told them all week long when we were working, the energy that we had on Saturday to push to win that game is the same energy we’re going to have to have this whole game today,” said Chet Kingery. “We worked all week on higher energy, higher energy, working hard and higher energy. I thought they brought that energy today for the most part.

“Since the playoffs have begun, every at-bat counts,” he later said. “So, going into playoffs, we’ve really have been focusing on one pitch, and if we see that pitch, we can’t miss it.”

The 19 victories so far this season is one less than the combined total of the past four seasons and the last time the program has had this many wins, you have to go back to 2006 when V.C. went 21-10-1 and fell to Pomona Catholic High 1-0 in the Division V title game. That season was the third consecutive 21-win campaign. Just two seasons ago, the Defenders had missed the playoffs for the third straight season and fourth out of the last five. And with the abundance of underclassmen still in the program, plus the ones who are coming up for next season and beyond, it’s safe to say the program is back on the rise.

“Oh, absolutely,” predicted Peyton Kingery. “This program is changing for the absolute better. I’m so excited to see what the next couple of years holds for us.”

Valley Christian High junior shortstop Britton Brown (#7) celebrates after catching the final out in last Saturday’s CIF-Southern Section Division 5 championship game. The Defenders edged Liberty High 8-7 for the program’s third softball divisional championship. PHOTO BY STEVE FERICEAN.