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Mater Dei Catholic Crusaders repeat as Division IV softball champions Phillip Brents | Fri, Jun 03 2011 12:33 AM

This year’s high school softball playoffs culminated with five divisional championship games on May 28 at UC San Diego. The Bonita Vista Barons and Mater Dei Catholic Crusaders both made a bold statement for South County respect by advancing to championship games.

Both divisional tilts — top-seeded Bonita Vista versus 10th-seeded West Hills in Division II and third-seeded Mater Dei versus top-seeded Madison in Division IV — provided the highlights of the five finals.

And both ended with dramatic upsets.

Mater Dei (19-13) handed Madison (28-1) its first loss of the season by pushing across five runs in the top of the seventh inning to claim a wild 8-6 victory and hold onto its division title for at least one more year.

Meanwhile, the Wolf Pack (19-10) likely pulled off the biggest upset win of the entire 2010-11 season by shutting out the top-ranked Barons (34-2) by a score of 4-0.
Bonita Vista entered the championship game ranked fourth in the state and 13th in the nation by MaxPreps.

The upset victories involving the two Metro Conference teams only seemed to define this year’s section championship round. Besides those two attention grabbers, the sixth-seeded Grossmont Foothillers (23-10-1) defeated top-seeded Poway (25-7) by a score of 4-3 to claim the Division I title.

Of the five top-seeded teams in this year’s divisional alignment, only University City (23-5) in Division III and Tri-City Christian (18-6) in Division V came through with championship game victories.

And UC had to go the long route to uphold its top-seeded position in the division. The Centurions had to win two ball games on May 26 — 2-1 against second-seeded Santana and then 12-2 against third-seeded Cathedral Catholic — to advance to the championship game against fourth-seeded Ramona.

University City defeated Ramona, 12-2, in a five-inning run-rule game to finally claim the Division III title — its second in as many years.

Tri-City Christian routed the second-seeded Rock Academy, 15-0, in a shortened five-inning game to win the section’s first-ever Division V championship.

Champions again
Last year’s Crusader team was clearly touched by an angel as it dedicated its season to the late Estelle Kassebaum, a longtime principal/president at the school, and came through with a CIF championship by upsetting top-seeded Christian.

A similar scenario played out to the same conclusion this year as the team dedicated its season to the memory of assistant coach Perry Burgess, who died of a heart attack less than a month into the current season.

“We played that same afternoon,” MDC coach Mike Centrullo said. “Understandably, it was very difficult.”

Burgess’ death was simply one among a series of events that tested the soul of this year’s Crusader team. Centrullo noted that two grandparents of players’ also died and that star pitcher Maritza Lopez-Portillo was sidelined a month in the middle of the season.

“We had our trials and tribulations but this team rose above it,” Centrullo said.

“This team has endured a lot this season,” MDC athletic director Nicki Limoges said. “The  girls had a bucket made in honor of Perry, where he would have sat during the games. Also, on their home dugout, they have some flowers hanging on the fence next to his name. Perry was part of their family and the team dedicated this season to him. I know they all believed he helped them come together as a team and win the CIF championship.”

The spate of setbacks only seemed to inspire the Crusaders. Many members on the team who had never pitched before, or pitched very little, stepped up and got in the pitching circle to help the team get through regular season play during Lopez-Portillo’s absence. Mater Dei finished 1-8 in league play.

Perhaps because of her absence in the pitching circle, it caused the team to shore itself up at the corners. The Crusaders’ defensive performance was decidedly enhanced and that proved to be a key element to securing this year’s championship title.

That — and the team could also hit the ball.

“I can honestly say that every player on this team contributed to us winning CIF this year,” Centrullo said. “I can’t remember every having a team were everyone was so important to us winning.”

Mater Dei smashed sixth-seeded Del Norte, 10-0, in a five-inning run-rule game as the opening round of double-elimination play commenced on May 20. The Crusaders took it on the chin with a 10-0 run-rule loss to second-seeded Palo Verde Valley in the second round on May 21 but rebounded with four consecutive victories to capture this year’s divisional banner.

Mater Dei downed fourth-seeded Francis Parker, 11-1, in a six-inning elimination game on May 24 to advance to the challenger bracket semifinal contest against fifth-seeded Valley Center on May 26.

The Crusaders held on to edge the Jaguars, 9-8, to gain a rematch against Palo Verde in the evening’s challenger bracket final.

Mater Dei’s ensuing 6-3 win over Palo Verde catapulted the Chula Vista private school to the Division IV championship game.

In reaching last year’s title contest, the Crusaders also defeated Palo Verde to get there.

This year, Mater Dei (the fourth place finisher in the Mesa League behind Bonita Vista, Hilltop, Eastlake and Otay Ranch) met up against Madison, undefeated in 28 previous games on the season and at one point early on challenging the Barons for the coveted top section ranking.

The Crusaders appeared to collectively say no problem, and seized the momentum when it mattered most.

The Warhawks entered the championship game having outscored opponents 390-30 this season and promptly pushed across three runs in the bottom of the first inning.

Mater Dei tied the game with three runs of its own in the top of the third inning but Madison went back in front by a 6-3 score on the strength of a three-run uprising in the fifth inning.

Trailing by three runs with three outs apparently remaining in their season, the Crusaders made one last stand — and a very memorable one, at that.

Skania Lemus delivered a RBI-single to help ignite the late inning rally after doubling in two runners earlier in the contest. Mikayla Conlin stroked two doubles and drove in two runs for Mater Dei, which made a winner out of Lopez-Portillo (13-4).

“This team has been doing it for three years,” Centrullo said. “It was an encore performance. There’s a lot of heart and character on this team. They never quit, especially this year. I think they wanted to win for Perry.”

Carlie Brickley drove in three runs for the Warhawks. Nicole Clites, who gave up three runs in her one inning of work, was ticketed with the loss. Breanna Eaker allowed five runs in six innings of work.

Lemus earned the CIF Sportsmanship award.

Almost famous
West Hills advanced to the Division II winners bracket final against top-seeded Bonita Vista on May 26 after defeating, in order, seventh-seeded Patrick Henry (9-4 on May 19, second-seeded Mt. Carmel (4-2 on May 20) and 11th-seeded Westview (5-4 on May 21).

The Barons eked out a tenuous 1-0 win to send the Wolf Pack to the challenger bracket final against fifth-seeded Point Loma. West Hills earned a championship rematch against Bonita Vista by edging past the Pointers 2-1.

Noelle Johnson shut down Bonita Vista on two hits in the division championship game after allowing just two hits to the Barons in the 1-0 loss in the winners bracket final. Bonita Vista’s game-winning run scored on an error. Johnson had 10 strikeouts in the loss.

The Wolf Pack took care of business two days later.

Extra bases
Heading into the third round on May 24, one South County team remained alive in the challenger bracket: the Eastlake Titans (12-14-1). The Titans, however, bowed out of this year’s tournament with a 6-3 setback to Torrey Pines.

Eastlake, seeded 12th in Division I, finished 2-2 in four playoff games. The Titans opened with back-to-back upset victories against fifth-seeded Mission Hills (2-0 on May 19) and fourth-seeded Mira Mesa (9-5 on May 20).

For those who are curious, Bonita Vista swept Mater Dei in two Mesa League match-ups this season. The Barons won by scores of 12-1 and 19-6.

Bonita Vista went 3-1 in four post-season contests while out-scoring teams 343-81 this season.

A total of five Mesa League teams qualified for this year’s playoff field: Eastlake and Otay Ranch in Division I, Bonita Vista and Hilltop in Division II and Mater Dei Catholic in Division IV. The four teams combined for a very respectable 10-6 showing.

Sixth-seeded Hilltop dropped a 10-3 decision to visiting 11th-seeded Westview in the play-in round while ninth-seeded Otay Ranch (12-14) ended its season with a 4-1 loss to eighth-seeded Rancho Bernardo, also in the play-in round.

Hilltop finished 9-1 in league play (along with the co-champion Barons) while both the Titans and Mustangs tied with 5-5 league marks.

Two teams qualified for post-season action from the South Bay League: co-champions Olympian (14-5) and Mar Vista (14-10).

Olympian, seeded 11th in the Division III field, ended its season with a 4-1 loss to sixth-seeded San Dieguito Academy in the play-in round.

Mar Vista, seeded 12th in Division III, had its season end on a rather frustrating note as El Capitan’s Delanie Gourley hurled a perfect game, striking out 15 Mariners. 

Both the Eagles and Mariners finished 11-1 in league play.

Section honor roll
Rachel Stalford was once again in the spotlight for Grossmont in closing out its sensational 5-1 run through the Division I bracket. She improved to 22-10-1 by tossing a five-hitter at Poway. Stalford appeared in all six post-season games, winning five while posting victories against 11th-seeded San Pasqual (6-0 on May 19), third-seeded Torrey Pines (2-1 on May 20) and seventh-seeded Escondido (2-0 on May 21).

The Foothillers avenged a 2-0 loss to Poway in the winners bracket final, though it wasn’t easy. Grossmont first had to eliminate eighth-seeded Rancho Bernardo, 7-4, in the challenger bracket final right after being dealt the winners bracket setback.

Stalford pitched both games on May 26. She allowed seven hits in both games — the loss to Poway and the victory over Rancho Bernardo. Her 12 strikeouts in the challenger bracket final against RB proved to be the decisive edge.

In the championship game, Hayley Kasden propelled Grossmont to an early 3-1 lead on the strength of a three-run home run in the third inning. Poway tied the game on a pair of home runs in the fourth inning, but Stalford made amends by driving in what proved to be the game-winning run on a bloop single in the fifth inning.

All five of the Foothillers’ playoff wins came against North County teams.

May drove in three runs in the victory over Rancho Bernardo.

Visit the Web site at www.cifsds.org for more information.

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