The Steele Canyon Cougars turned back stiff playoff challenges from three South Bay teams to capture the championship title of this year's Hilltop Invitational. Finals took place March 27 at Olympian High School.
Steele Canyon defeated Mar Vista, 8-0, in a game called after six innings because of the mercy rule to lay claim to the championship title of the 16-team tourney.
The Cougars (8-2-1) eliminated tourney-host Hilltop, 2-1, in the preceding semifinals and topped defending Mesa League champion Bonita Vista, 3-2, in eight innings in the quarterfinals, also played on March 27, to cap a 6-0 run through the event.
Lorena Klopp, who earned honors as last year's Grossmont South League Pitcher of the Year, was named the tournament Most Valuable Player. Two other Steele Canyon teammates joined her on the all-tournament team: Michelle Beasley and Courtney Johnson.
Johnson (2-0) got the win in the championship game by blanking the Mariners on one hit.
She carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning.
Molly Hutchison paced the Cougars with three RBI, including a two-run double, while Gabrielle Beasley went 3-for-3 with two doubles and two RBI.
Mar Vista's run to the title game include a 5-3 win over El Capitan in the semifinals and a 7-4 victory over Eastlake in the quarterfinals.
Angel Iacovetti (6-2) earned the win in both games for the Mariners, who out-slugged the Titans 10-7 in the hitting department. Iacovetti had 11 strikeouts against Eastlake and limited El Capitan to three hits in another complete game performance.
Stephanie Beltran drove in two runs in both wins while Jennifer Thompson also had two RBI in the victory against Eastlake.
Jenna Howell and Ariana Trammel joined Iacovetti on the all-tournament team for defending South Bay League champion Mar Vista (6-3).
Either Bonita Vista or Hilltop could conceivably have taken Steele Canyon's spot in the finals with a benefit of a bounce or two.
Amanda Hartnett singled in Nicole Randel for the game-winning run in the Cougars' extra inning victory over the Barons in the quarterfinals. Bonita Vista (3-5-1) scored two runs in the opening inning to go ahead early before Steele Canyon pushed across single runs in the second and sixth innings to tie the contest.
Klopp blanked Bonita Vista for the final seven-and-one-third innings of the ballgame as her team rallied for the come-from-behind win. Klopp and Gabrielle Beasley also were credited with driving in runs in the game.
Jennifer Hartman (2-5) took the loss for the Barons. Hannah Flippin and Celinna Cosio each scored runs to put Bonita Vista up 2-0.
Steele Canyon and Hilltop (7-3) settled for six hits apiece in their semifinal match-up. The score was tied at 1-1 through three innings before the Cougars pushed across what proved to be the game-winning run in the fourth inning. The Lancers made two errors in the game while Steele Canyon was tagged with one miscue.
Nikki Furuya went 3-for-4 with a double and scored the Lancers' only run. Hilltop also had one runner thrown out at the plate in the first inning.
Klopp had a RBI single for the winners as Irene Blumenstock (3-0) out-dueled Lancer ace Alysha Isaacson to pick up the victory. Isaacson also picked up a RBI in the game.
Hilltop advanced to the semifinals by defeating fellow Mesa League rival Otay Ranch, 8-3, as Jordan Rhudy (3-1) held the Mustangs to three hits and Natalia Rosales went 3-for-3 with one double, two RBI and scored two runs. The Lancers pounded Adrianna Puente, the Mustangs' pitcher, for 11 hits, though Otay Ranch's Carlee Wood slammed the only home run of the game.
Ariel Bochniak picked up three RBI in the win while teammate Maua Cien-Mayer drove in two runs.
Bochniak was one of two Lancers to earn honors on the all-tournament team, joining Fiana Finau.
El Capitan defeated Southwest El Centro, 3-0, in the quarterfinals behind a superb pitching performance by Delanie Gourley, who struck out 16 batters and limited the Eagles to one hit.
But the Vaqueros (4-3) saw their playoff run ended in the ensuing semifinals against Mar Vista. Catherine Brown drove in two runs for El Capitan in the semifinal loss. Both Gourley and teammate Alicia Zuniga were named to the all-tournament team.
The Metro Conference was well represented in this year's eight-team playoff field with five teams: Bonita Vista, Eastlake, Hilltop, Mar Vista and Otay Ranch. Two East County squads advanced to the semifinals: El Capitan and Steele Canyon.
Hilltop, Eastlake, El Capitan and Steele Canyon advanced to the playoffs after winning all three of their pool games. The Lancers topped Coronado (3-0), Olympian (11-1) and Southwest El Centro (3-1) while Eastlake turned aside challenges from Clairemont (2-1), Castle Park (13-0) and Otay Ranch (11-1).
The Titans rapped out 20 hits against Castle Park while Ashleigh Minter picked up victories against Clairemont and Otay Ranch.
Steele Canyon defeated Mar Vista (9-2), Mater Dei (12-0) and Brawley (6-2) in its three pool contests.
Bonita Vista won its opening two pool games (2-1 over Francis Parker and 10-0 over Morse) but dropped a 2-0 decision to El Capitan in its final pool game to finish runner-up to the Vaqueros.
Bonita Vista, Otay Ranch, Mar Vista and Southwest El Centro advanced as second-place teams from their respective pools.
Hilltop coach Nancy Acerrio, who served as tournament director, lauded the efforts of the South Bay teams.
"This tournament has evolved over the years to where the Metro teams are getting stronger each year," she said. "Ian Cumming started this tournament 27 years ago. We are so tradition-oriented here at Hilltop that we've kept the format. We like to bring teams to the South Bay that might not ordinarily come down here."
Acerrio called Mar Vista "the surprise of this year's tournament."
"They took advantage of the situation in their semifinal game against El Capitan," she said. "How about Mar Vista!"
Hilltop Invitational Championship Playoffs
March 27 at Olympian High School
El Capitan 3, Southwesst El Centro 0
Mar Vista 7, Eastlake 4
Hilltop 8, Otay Ranch 3
Steele Canyon 3, Bonita Vista 2 (eight innings)
Mar Vista 5, El Capitan 3
Steele Canyon 2, Hilltop 1
Steele Canyon 8, Mar Vista 0 (called, six innings)
Steele Canyon: Lorena Klopp, Courtney Johnson, Michelle Beasley
Mar Vista: Angel Iacovetti, Jenna Howell, Ariana Trammel
Hilltop: Ariel Bochniak, Fiana Finau
El Capitan: Delanie Gourley, Alicia Zuniga
MVP: Lorena Klopp (Steele Canyon)
Pool Play Records
Group 1: Hilltop 3-0, Southwest El Centro 2-1, Coronado 1-2, Olympian 0-3
Group 2: Eastlake 3-0, Otay Ranch 2-1, Clairemont 1-2, Castle Park 0-3
Group 3: Steele Canyon 3-0, Mar Vista 1-2, Mater Dei 1-2, Brawley 1-2
Group 4: El Capitan 3-0, Bonita Vista 2-1, Francis Parker 1-2, Morse 0-3