Fri, Jun 03 2011 12:29 AM Posted By: John Philip Wyllie
Throughout the regular season and through three rounds of the San Diego Section playoffs, Bonita Vista High School’s top-ranked softball team was an offensive powerhouse: scoring runs seemingly at will and defeating, often by lopsided margins, 34 of their first 35 opponents.
Heading into last Saturday’s Division II championship game against 10th-seeded West Hills, the Barons had every reason to be confident. All the indicators and statistics were pointing to 2011 being the year when Bonita Vista would finally win its first CIF softball championship.
However, it was not to be.
Facing the red-hot Wolf Pack (19-10) and extraordinary pitcher Noelle Johnson, the Barons failed to mount any semblance of an offense, falling 4-0 to end what had been an incredible season on a very sour note.
“(Noelle Johnson) was the best pitcher we faced all year,” said BV’s obviously disappointed coach John Carlson. “She had killer off-speed drop and didn’t walk anybody.”
Johnson, who is headed to Utah State on a full scholarship following her senior year, mesmerized and mystified the Barons (34-2), keeping them off-balance with her well developed six-pitch arsenal. The Barons were limited to just two singles (Kayla Jordan and Ruby Elliot) and never came close to scoring a run.
Baron junior ace Jennifer Hartman, meanwhile, held West Hills off the scoreboard for three innings, but then ran into trouble in the fourth.
The Wolf Pack’s Taylor Hallahan opened the inning with an infield single. Then Hartman walked the aforementioned Johnson. With two on, Cortney Home launched a run-scoring double to left center field. Then, with runners on second and third, Katie Byrd put West Hills up 2-0 with a run-scoring single.
The Wolf Pack might have blown the game open in the fourth were it not for a shoestring grab by centerfielder Hannah Flippen to end the inning. But the damage was done.
West Hills added two more in the top of the seventh inning to put any hope of a comeback farther out of reach.
Most of the disappointed Baron players were fighting back tears when they were awarded their runner-up awards.
“Unfortunately, there is only one winner at the end,” Carlson said. “We went 34-2 and beat all of the top teams in San Diego this season. West Hills was one tough team for a 10th seed.”
Stars in their eyes
The Wolf Pack — Division II runners-up last year — caught fire in the playoffs, knocking off Patrick Henry, Mt. Carmel and Westview before losing a 1-0 squeaker to top-ranked Bonita Vista in the teams’ winners bracket final on May 26.
An ensuing victory over Pt. Loma in the second double-elimination semifinal provided West Hills with another opportunity against the South Bay powerhouse. This time the Wolf Pack took full advantage of it.
With Johnson’s brilliant pitching and some timely hitting, the Wolf Pack convincingly defeated what had been, according to MaxPreps, the 13th ranked team in the nation.
“I tried to keep them off balance and I used my off-speed and change-up pitches a lot,” Johnson said following her textbook pitching exhibition. “I made sure that I hit my spots and didn’t leave them with anything they could crush.”
Heading into the championship game, Bonita Vista (34-2) was the best hitting team in the county with a combined .401 batting average, with five starters hitting higher than .430.
The low seeding in this year’s tournament turned out to be a motivating factor for West Hills in the playoffs.
“We felt hugely disrespected by getting a (No.) 10 seed,” Wolf Pack coach Mike Applebaum said. “We talked to the team and told them that this is all about respect. If they are not going to give it to us, we will take it. At the end of the day you have to knock off whoever is in front of you. We knocked off the (No.) 2 seed, the (No.) 7, the (No.) 11 and today the No. 1 seed and we are feeling pretty good about it.”
Having played Bonita Vista just two days earlier gave the Wolf Pack players the confidence they needed to prevail.
“The semifinal was a pitcher’s duel,” Applebaum said. “In that game, Noelle had 10 strikeouts and only gave up one hit. Their one run was unearned off of an error. So going into it today, we practiced knowing that we could play with anybody. I couldn’t be more proud of these girls. This victory is all about them.”
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