•Crusaders score rare CIF five-peat championship
The San Diego Section’s 2014 softball crusade is over and Mater Dei Catholic High School’s players now have one for the thumb — championship rings, that is.
“I don’t know where they got that from, but, yes, we now have won five CIF championships in a row,” MDCHS coach Mike Centrullo duly noted after his squad topped 10th-seeded Valhalla, 3-0, in Saturday’s Division II final.
The toughest one of the five? This year’s title certainly has to rank among the most rewarding.
“We still have a young team, but the challenge this year was moving up two divisions to Division II where the teams are a lot more competitive other than just the enrollment factor,” Centrullo explained.
“We scheduled up throughout the season and played in some tough tournaments to get us prepared. We usually hit our stride when we get to the playoffs, and we did it again this year.”
Centrullo noted the team has gone undefeated in its last 15 playoff games; the Crusaders (19-11) finished this season with six consecutive wins, four playoff wins included.
“We seemed to hit and score runs when the pitching was off and, when the hitting was off, the pitching and defense were there,” said the MDCHS coach, whose team finished 2-5 in Metro-Mesa League play. “In the CIF championship game, we didn’t score a lot of runs but we had a nice balance between our pitching, defense and our hitting.”
The teams had met once this season, with Mater Dei Catholic defeating Valhalla, 8-5, in a Hilltop tournament game on March 29.
The teams were separated once again by three runs on Saturday. The Crusaders scored twice in the bottom of the first inning and later tacked on an insurance run in the fourth inning.
Kelly White pitched a complete game four-hitter while striking out seven batters. She successfully pitched around Valhalla’s top threats, issuing three walks in the contest.
Mater Dei Catholic generated just five hits against Valhalla starter Ashley Madara but proved opportunistic in scoring runs.
The first run scored on an error, then Eva Gonzales singled to score the second run. White later collected one RBI on a sacrifice fly to score the team’s third run.
Kelsey Munoz, who had one hit in the game, scored two of the Crusaders’ three runs. Alexis Morales also scored once.
The Norsemen, who finished in a second-place tie with Granite Hills in the Grossmont Hills League standings behind league champion West Hills, finished the season 20-13.
Mater Dei Catholic made its fifth consecutive trip to the section finals after squeezing past ninth-seeded San Pasqual, 7-6, in an eight-inning thriller in the winners bracket final May 29 at the Santee USA Sportsplex.
Reyna Jamison finished the game three-for-four with a triple and two RBI while Morales went two-for-five with two runs scored and one RBI to lead the Crusaders.
The Crusaders were hard-pressed to score the victory after letting a 3-2 lead evaporate on a game-tying home run by San Pasqual’s Autumn McCollister in the top of the seventh inning and a triple by McCollister — her fourth hit of the game — in the top of the eighth inning to score three runs to give the Golden Eagles a 6-3 lead.
But Centrullo’s squad has managed to find a way this season, and again it was so as MDC chipped away in its final at-bat.
The Crusaders placed two runners on base when Lindsey Finch rocked a ground-rule double to score one run to trim the San Pasqual lead to 6-4. Morales then drove in another run to cut the lead to 6-5 and Sophia Herrera laid down a perfect suicide squeeze to score Finch as the game-tying run.
The game-winning run scored on an errant pick-off attempt at third base.
Mater Dei Catholic was then left waiting to find out which team it would face in Saturday’s division final.
Valhalla, the division’s 10th seed, had eliminated top-seeded Eastlake earlier in the day and waited to take on San Pasqual in the challenger bracket final. The Norsemen eliminated the equally upset-minded San Pasqual, 17-10, in a slugfest to advance to meet the Crusaders in the championship game.
Carlee Wallace slammed two home runs in the game for the Lady Norsemen to account for five RBI in the game.
White walked Wallace twice in Saturday’s championship contest.
The spirit is with them
Centrullo said motivation is always a key ingredient to any championship and his team was inspired to win the title this season for honorary player Kelly Lecker. The 7-year-old first grader has cerebral palsy and is the latest member of the team’s honorary player program that pairs special-needs children with team members.
Doctors originally cautioned that Kelly might never walk, talk or even see. But to see Kelly interacting with the team has been a phenomenal experience, according to everyone connected to the Crusaders this season — players, coaches, parents, administrators … and Kelly’s parents, of course.
Centrullo said the program provides “life lessons learned” for team members.
Last year’s honorary player, Carly Gastineau, the younger sister of team member Sydney Gastineau, still comes to MDCHS games. Sydney indicated that being a part of the team helped Carly’s home life.
The program has certainly provided a reality check for the team, Centrullo noted.
“At the end of the day, it all comes down to motivation,” the MDCHS coach explained. “It was a really good experience for all the girls to have Kelly with us this year and I think the girls were really inspired to win for Kelly.”
Centrullo noted that children selected to participate in the school’s honorary player program are the first to receive the championship trophy.
In the team’s championship photo, Kelly is standing with the trophy as players around her hold up open palms — four fingers …and one for the thumb.
San Diego Section
Softball Championship Games
Saturday, May 31/UC San Diego
(2) Carlsbad 8, (3) Bonita Vista 4
(1) Cathedral 6, (4) Ramona 1
(3) Mater Dei Catholic 3, (10) Valhalla 0
(4) Clairemont 3, (2) Brawley 0
Friday, May 30/UC San Diego
(5) Central Union 5, (1) Bishop’s 1
(3) Mountain Empire 11, (1) Southwest 9