Los Al knocks off
top-seeded Norco to
win CIF-SS Championship
By Ted Apodaca
A championship game that pitted the top two ranked teams in the section and the state, lived up to its billing, as the No. 2 Los Alamitos High softball team held off top-ranked Norco, 3-1, to capture the CIF-SS Division 1 Championship on Saturday in Irvine.
The two teams were also ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in several national polls. Los Alamitos had taken a 2-0 lead, and then led 3-0 heading into the final inning. However, after the Cougars led off the inning with a home run, and added a one-out single, Norco was putting pressure on the Griffins.
Ryan Denhart had stuck out a batter looking for the first out, then caught another batter looking (both with screwballs) for the second out. Norco junior Sierra Marshall then hit a ball deep to the left-centerfield gap but Griffin senior centerfielder Jenna Kean made a tremendous diving catch to end the game and start the Griffin celebration.
“That was part of the deal, don’t let them get any momentum because if they get momentum they have kids up and down the lineup that put the ball in play and hurt you, so that was a huge play,” Coach Rob Weil said.
Los Alamitos finished the season at 28-3 this year, with the CIF-SS title and after defeating the No. 1 team in the nation, hold what would be considered the mythical national championship as well.
“It’s all still spinning, I have too many emotions right now,” senior first baseman Cami Sellers said.
Norco had defeated the Griffins earlier in the season in the Michelle Carew Tournament and had entered the title game with a record of 33-0. The Griffins had also lost to other teams this season (La Habra and Mission Viejo), but had defeated those same teams in subsequent meetings. Weil said the team talked about doing that again.
“I told them, ‘you know what, let’s just go out and do the same thing tonight, let’s just play simple and stay within ourselves,’” Weil said.
For the Griffins, they had reached the semifinals last year before falling short. It was the motivation for the team this year, particularly the 14 seniors on the team.
“It was amazing, all of us (seniors) were on the team last year when we lost in the semis, we knew how close we were and that we wanted to get there this year and we did reach our goal, we accomplished it more than we ever imagined,” pitcher Ryan Denhart said.
Denhart went pitch for pitch against Player of the Year, pitcher Taylor Dockins through three innings. With steady defense behind her, Denhart was perfect through four innings and allowed just a single to Dockins in the fifth.
Meanwhile, the Griffin offense gave her some breathing room in the bottom of the third.
Kean led off the inning with a single and Allison Englant followed with a hard liner off the glove of pitcher Dockins. It was the one out of three liners back at Dockins that she wasn’t able to stab for an out. After a pop up for the first out, Kean and Englant pulled off a double steal.
Senior catcher Mary Iakopo then scorched a hard grounder off the glove of the first baseman, scoring Kean and Englant as the ball bounced into foul territory. In the bottom of the fourth, the Griffins added one more run.
Sellers lined a shot to the gap for a one-out double. Pinch-runner Myah Iakopo took third on a grounder to shortstop when Norco did not get a tag on her. Alisha Martinez then hit a grounder to the shortstop that scored Iakopo on a force out at second base.
It was the first CIF-SS Championship for the Griffin softball program and it sends 14 seniors out on a high note.
“I’m happy for them and the dedication and time they have put in for this day,” Weil said.