The new competition-based format for the San Diego Section playoffs was kind to several South County teams in 2013-14, most notably the Southwest Raiders softball team, which recorded a meteoric runner-up finish in last Friday’s Division V championship game at UC San Diego.
It marked just the third time in school history that a Southwest team had advanced to a CIF final, the first time since 1983 that a Raider squad stepped onto the diamond in quest of a divisional championship and the first time since 1989 that a team from the school had even been involved in the section playoffs.
Certainly, after top-seeded Southwest quickly shot out of the gate with six runs in the first inning in last Friday’s climactic CIF title game against the third-seeded Mountain Empire Red Hawks, it appeared that the Raiders might finally score that history-making first division championship.
But the Red Hawks (17-4) had an answer for their slow start. The East County team capitalized on 10 Southwest errors to go with 11 hits to zip in front 11-6.
The Raiders (14-8) rallied with three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning but it wasn’t enough.
Southwest’s 2014 squad of high achievers joined the hallowed Lady Raiders teams of 1982 and 1983 with runner-up finishes in the CIF finals.
For a team that had finished near the bottom of the section in total wins just a few years ago (2-13 in 2010), that’s a huge jump forward.
Southwest High School Principal Lee Romero conceded that a return trip to the section championship game was long overdue for the program.
“Our softball team has not made it to playoffs since 1989, much less making it to the CIF final game,” Romero explained. “We have a young team that has been improving every game.
“The entire Raider family is excited for our ladies. Hard work has paid off for these athletes. This is the furthest any Raider softball team has advanced in the CIF playoffs. We are very proud of our girls.”
While a championship was not destined this year, Southwest definitely left its calling card for future seasons.
The Lady Raiders slugged their way to last Friday’s championship game after scoring a lop-sided 11-1 victory against second-seeded Calipatria the previous day in semifinal action at the Poway USA Sportsplex.
Southwest scored six runs in the bottom of the fourth inning and tacked on three more in the next frame to turn a tight 1-0 game against the Hornets (17-6) into a rout. The game ended in the sixth inning due to the 10-run mercy rule.
Priscilla Lopez went four-for-five, scored three runs and collected four RBI while Sarah Diaz and Michelle Lopez each drove in two runs on two hits. Freshman Michelle Olea, who fired a no-hitter in a 3-1 victory against eighth-seeded Borrego Springs to open the playoffs on May 21, notched a three-hitter in the pitching circle.
Mountain Empire defeated fourth-seeded Foothills Christian, 13-3, in a five-inning run-rule contest to meet the Raiders in last Friday’s championship game. Grayce Majam struck out 10 batters in the win while also scoring three runs on the base-paths. Teammate Liz Cox drove in three runs to the delight of the Red Hawks.
Neither Southwest nor Mountain Empire had met on the field this season until last Friday’s CIF title game, and it would be Majam who would take center stage after hitting a towering .744 in 16 regular season games with seven doubles, six triples, nine home runs and a team-leading 27 RBI to complement a 9-1 record in the pitching circle with 110 strikeouts in 59 innings and a 1.06 earned-run average.
Against the Raiders, Majam pitched a complete game, scattered nine hits while striking out seven batters in seven innings. At the plate, she had three hits, scored two runs and drove in three runs.
Also doing damage for Mountain Empire were Kahla Oteo, Savannah Swafford and Taylor O’Reilly with two hits each. Oteo had two RBI while Swafford and O’Reilly each drove in one run.
Diaz keyed Southwest with two hits, two runs scored and two RBI. The Raiders used three hits and four Red Hawk errors to score their opening six runs.
Southwest, up 6-1 after the first inning, saw a 6-5 lead evaporate in the fifth inning after four Mountain Empire runners crossed the plate.
Southwest offered a glimmer of hope that its fortunes might change this spring after posting a 4-1 record in Metro-South Bay League play. The 4-1 league record tied Montgomery for first place in the standings after the teams had their final regular season game cancelled by the section due to the wildfires in North County.
Braced by an 11-7 regular season showing, the Lady Raiders went to work when it mattered the most by scoring three successive wins to open this year’s playoffs — 3-1 against eighth-seeded Borrego Springs on May 21, 19-5 over fourth-seeded Foothills Christian on May 24 and 11-1 over second-seeded Calipatria on May 29.
Olea led Southwest both at the plate and in the pitching circle this season. In 18 regular season game appearances, she posted a team-leading .525 hitting average with seven doubles and 16 RBI. In 50 innings pitched, she had 57 strikeouts.
Other top hitters on this year’s Raider squad include Diaz (.500, 15 RBI, two home runs), Lopez (.444. 16 RBI, seven doubles, three triples, one home run), Cindy Pena (.371, team-leading 20 RBI, six doubles, two home runs) and Zinnai Lopez (.370, 13 RBI, four doubles, three home runs.
Last Friday’s Division V championship game preceded the Division IV title game that saw fifth-seeded Central Union (18-14-1) bring the trophy back to Imperial Valley after defeating the top-seeded Bishop’s Knights (21-2) by a score of 5-1.
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