The Metro-Mesa League champion Bonita Vista Barons did it the hard way, winning three elimination games in last week’s San Diego Section playoffs, but they got the job done to advance to Saturday’s Open Division championship contest.
While there may have been some sad faces after the 8-4 loss to the second-seeded Carlsbad Lancers at UC San Diego, the third-seeded Barons can hold their heads up high. After all, what’s so bad about being the second best team out of what is rated to be the top eight teams in the section?
The Barons (20-7) opened this year’s playoffs with a commanding 9-2 victory against sixth-seeded Torrey Pines, last year’s Division I champions, on May 21, but then stumbled in an 11-2 setback to Carlsbad in second-round bracket play on May 24.
The loss to the Lancers dropped the Metro-Mesa champs to the single-elimination challenger bracket. One more loss and the season would be over for Bonita Vista.
The Barons eliminated fourth-seeded Rancho Bernardo, last year’s Division II champions, by a 6-2 score on May 27 to advance to the semifinals, scheduled May 29 at the Santee USA Sportsplex.
It was there that Bonita Vista defeated fifth-seeded Westview (24-6-1) in a pair of 4-2 nail-biters to successfully climb out of the challenger bracket and draw a playoff rematch against Carlsbad.
Westview had to win just one game to advance to the championship game while Bonita Vista had to beat the Wolverines twice in the span of a couple of hours.
Senior Carolyn Wright led the Lady Barons with two hits in the first game against Westview while senior Alex Vargas (three innings, three strikeouts) and sophomore Izzy Ortiz (four innings, two strikeouts) combined for five strikeouts in sharing the pitching load. Vargas also drove in one run in the must-win game.
With the teams evened up with one loss in bracket play, the winner of the nightcap encounter would advance to the championship game.
The Barons knuckled down and won by the same score despite being out-hit by the Wolverines 8-5 in the suspenseful contest.
Vargas collected two hits and two RBI in the showdown match. Vargas and Ortiz once again combined forces in the pitching circle, this time striking out four Westview players.
Despite taking out top-seeded Poway, 5-0, in a second-round bracket game, the upset-minded Wolverines finished the season simply upset.
The initial encounter against Carlsbad began innocently enough, with the Barons battling back to tie the Lancers, 2-2, with single runs in the top of the fourth and fifth innings. But the bottom of the fifth inning proved to be disaster for the Metro-Mesa champs as Carlsbad poured nine runs across the plate to seize the victory and improve to 2-0 in bracket play.
Iesha Hill cracked a grand slam to break the deadlock while teammate Evelyn Delgado also homered to finish the game with two RBI. Junior Hannah Bandimere scattered five hits while striking out three Barons.
In Saturday’s championship game, Bandimere gave up four hits and struck out eight Bonita Vista hitters in five innings while Robyn Ukegawa swung the big stick for the Lancers with three RBI. Taylor Gardner also drove in two runs for the section’s inaugural Open Division champions.
The Barons actually held leads of 1-0 and 3-2 in the contest before Carlsbad pushed across four runs in the bottom of the fifth inning. Vargas had two hits and one RBI to pace the division runners-up.
The fateful inning for the Lancers saw the strike zone seemingly shrink to the size of the catcher’s mitt as a pair of Lancers drew free passes and subsequent Carlsbad hitters drew favorable counts before slapping balls in the right spots against a drawn-in infield.
But the best could be yet to come for this Bonita bunch. While the Barons will lose some key movers and shakers due to graduation, the team still remains young with plenty of potential.
Sophomore Linda Abernathy led the Barons with a .750 regular season hitting average in 14 games played while junior Ashley Quidolit turned in a .500 average in 84 plate appearances.
Also for the Barons, sophomore Aaliyah Jordan hit .491 with seven doubles, two triples and four home runs to go with 21 RBI while Wright batted .400 with 18 RBI.
Freshman Lani Graft (.390) paced Bonita Vista with 26 RBI while Vargas smashed six homers and drove in 26 runs.
Vargas finished regular season play 8-2 in the pitching circle with a team-leading 1.97 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 78 innings pitched; Ortiz (7-3) cobbled together a 2.43 ERA with 28 K’s in 54 innings.
In a Division I winners bracket game Thursday in Santee, fourth-seeded Ramona (22-8) scored a wild 16-10 victory against second-seeded Otay Ranch to drop the Mustangs to the challenger bracket final against top-seeded Cathedral Catholic. The Dons (26-3) then secured a Saturday finals date with the Lady Bulldogs by eliminating Otay Ranch by a 9-1 score in the ensuing challenger bracket final. The Lady Mustangs ended their season 21-11.
In the game against Ramona, Niki Fernandez and Erika Rodriguez each drove in three runs to lead the Mustangs while Josie Bachtell collected two RBI and Jennie Esquivel and Kalalaelisa Toomalatauach were credited with one RBI each.
Bachtell was roughed up for 13 hits and 14 runs, though only five were earned runs.
Hanah Bowen led the Lady Bulldogs with four RBI while pitcher Kailey Hill survived 12 Otay Ranch hits to turn in a complete game victory.
Ramona led 3-2 after the first inning and 7-2 after two frames. But the Mustangs began to chip away at the Bulldogs’ imposing lead, scoring five times in the bottom of the fifth inning to tie the score 8-8. Ramona got one run in the top of the sixth inning to go up 9-8 and then erupted for seven runs in the top of the seventh inning to shoot in front 16-8. Otay Ranch closed out the game with two runs in the bottom of the seventh for the final 16-10 score.
In the winner-take-all game against Cathedral Catholic for the right to advance to the division championship game, Cathedral’s Devyn Magnett shut down the Mustangs on five hits while striking out 10 batters. Sarai Niu led the Dons with three RBI while teammates Hannah Gilliland and Tierra Falo drove in two runs apiece.
Fernandez led Otay Ranch in what turned out to be its last game of the season with two hits while Desiree Luquin collected one RBI. Bachtell gave up eight runs — seven earned — while striking out five batters and issuing six walks.
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