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Crusader softball team makes a wish, grabs rare CIF 'four-peat' Phillip Brents | Fri, May 31 2013 08:26 AM

When Mater Dei Catholic High School softball coach Mike Centrullo was sizing up an 11-0 run-rule loss to the No. 1-ranked Bonita Vista Barons on May 1, he was obviously looking for positives.

And he found some.

“We played some tough teams from higher enrollment divisions all through the season and that can only help prepare you for the playoffs,” Centrullo said.

Bonita Vista entered this year’s San Diego Section playoffs as the top-seeded team in the Division II bracket; Mater Dei Catholic entered the playoffs as the No. 3 seed in Division IV.

Both teams made it back to last Saturday’s division finals at UC San Diego in a quest to defend their championship titles.

Whereas the Barons dropped a 9-4 decision to second-seeded Rancho Bernardo to finish as the Division II runner-up, the Crusaders shut out fourth-seeded Valley Center, 2-0, to emerge with their fourth consecutive Division IV banner.

It obviously paid off to play with the big dogs.

“Playing teams like Bonita Vista and Otay Ranch, in particular, and all the teams in the Mesa League as well prepared us for anything we would see in the Division IV playoffs,” said Centrullo, whose team did not allow a run in its four post-season games.

The Crusaders opened the playoffs with a 1-0 victory against sixth-seeded Clairemont on May 16. That was followed by another 1-0 win May 18 against second-seeded La Jolla Country Day. The latter victory came in nine innings.

Those two narrow wins landed Mater Dei Catholic in the division semifinals against top-seeded Francis Parker on May 23. The Crusaders scored a smart 3-0 victory to advance to the championship game against the Jaguars.

Freshman Kelly White and sophomore Alexis Morales combined for a three-hit shutout in last Saturday’s division championship game.
 
White also picked up playoff victories against Clairemont, LJCD and Francis Parker to finish 4-0 in postseason play.

“It was kind of hard at first being new on the team but it was worth it in the end because we played as a team,” said White, who finished her first high school season with a .259 hitting average and an even more respectable record in the pitching circle.

MDC (25-7) scored single runs in the third and sixth innings. In the third, Avery Finch scored from third on an illegal pitch charged against VC’s Emma Sloman.

Amanda Hernandez drove in the team’s other run three innings later.

White and Morales proved to be the team’s dynamic duo in the pitching circle as they combined for 37 consecutive scoreless innings to drive the team’s championship run. They combined for 12 strikeouts in the win over LJCD.

White summed up her feelings about winning a CIF title as a freshman in two words: “It’s crazy!”

Finch, Kimberly Tamayo and Taylor Cruse are members of the Crusaders’ dynasty of four CIF championship teams.

They played for the memory of former principal Dr. Estelle Kassebaum in winning the 2010 title and played for the memory of assistant coach Perry Burges in winning the 2011 division championship.

This year, the team played for 11-year-old Make-A-Wish child Carli Gastineau, whom the team “adopted” as an honorary member for the 2013 season.

Gastineau is a special needs child. She has survived 12 surgeries, including five on her heart, three on her stomach, three on her eyes and one on her nose.

Her parents were told twice by doctors that she wasn’t expected to live through the night.

But Gastineau has defied the odds; she’s been taken in by team, wears a No. 1 team jersey, sits in the dugout with the team and keeps track of the hitting roster. She chants along with the other girls when the Crusaders are at bat.

Centrullo said one of the reasons for making the decision to bring Gastineau on board was to teach the girls on the team the bigger meaning of life.

“It’s not just about winning and losing,” the MDC coach said.

Centrullo said that whenever the team needed inspiration, all it had to do was look in its own dugout.

“Every time they hit a roadblock, the girls looked to Carli to help them refocus and realize that no matter how tough the season got that they could overcome their difficulties because Carli has overcome hers,” MDC athletic director Bill Gerken said.

“This is a special group of young ladies who work hard, focus on the goal they have striven to meet and then overcome difficulties as they happen to achieve their goal.”

Silver medalists

Bonita Vista fell one victory short of repeating as Division II champions, finishing 25-5-1.

“We’d been getting key hits all season but give credit to RB and their pitcher (Sara White), they played well,” BVHS coach John Carlson said. “It was their day.”

The win was the Broncos’ first in three tries this season against the Barons. The teams previously met in the semifinals two days earlier at the USA Sportsplex in Poway with Bonita Vista claiming a wild 18-17 comeback victory.

Rancho Bernardo subsequently eliminated fourth-seeded Scripps Ranch, 5-1, in the challenger bracket final to draw a rematch with the Barons.

RB broke out to an early 3-0 lead, held a narrow 4-3 lead, then expanded it to 5-3 and 6-3 before blowing open the game with three runs in the top of the seventh to lead 9-3.

Bonita Vista played scrappy until the end, scoring once on a broken play as Joselle Nicholas stole home plate.

Freshman Izzy Ortiz took the loss. “We lived and died with her all season,” Carlson said of his prized youngster. “We died today.”

The Barons did so despite pushing the Broncos (25-8) to the limit. White gave up seven hits and walked 11 BV players. The Barons proved to be their own worst enemy in the game by stranding 14 runners on base.

By contrast, the Bonitans were rewarded with timely rallies and big hits in the semifinal game against RB.

Aaliyah Jordan hit a grand slam home run in the first inning, though the Barons went on to trail 11-4 by the top of the third inning, 15-7 in the sixth and 17-14 as they came up to their final at bat.

Joselle Nicolas proved to be the heroine of the marathon three-hour, 15-minute game when she drove in teammate Alex Vargas with the winning run.

Kaylynn Lopez-Liu supported the BVHS comeback effort with three hits and four RBI. Jordan led the winners with seven RBI.

The teams combined for 37 hits and eight errors.

A year after recording the school’s first-ever CIF championship in the sport, the Barons might not have been expected to repeat, much less reach the championship game again with a line-up skewed heavily toward youth.

Despite the title game loss, however, Carlson said there remains much to celebrate.

“To be back in the championship game, to finish 23-5, these guys exceeded expectations,” he said. “We definitely had our chances.”

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