IRVINE, Calif. — Once the tears have dried and the hard feelings overcome, Santa Monica softball may find inspiration in a big loss that ended its title hopes.
Hemet routed the Samohi Vikings, 16-2, on Saturday in the final of the CIF-Southern Section Division 4 playoffs in Irvine, Calif., but for some, there is reason to be optimistic come next season.
“I’m just putting things in perspective,” Samohi head coach Debbie Skaggs said after the game. “We’ve over-achieved this year. We didn’t expect to come this far.”
The Vikings entered the postseason as an unseeded team and upset the No. 1 and No. 4 seeds en route to their unlikely appearance in the final.
Samohi’s route to the final was anything but dull.
The Vikings escaped the first round with a walk-off sacrifice against Hesperia and followed that up by upsetting No. 1 seed Segerstrom, 7-2, on the strength of a pair of Sara Garcia home runs.
A rout of Paloma Valley set up a showdown with No. 4 seed Dos Pueblos last week. After 11 long innings, pinch runner Denise Reynoso stole second and third base and scored on a wild pitch that propelled the Vikings to the cusp of its first softball title since 2010.
It looked like some of that magic would roll over into the final against Hemet when sophomore catcher Annie Quinne blasted a triple deep to center field in the first inning. She would score on a sacrifice bunt by senior Marissa Padilla giving Samohi an early 1-0 advantage.
Sophomore starting pitcher Whitney Jones would hold the slim lead through two innings, but that’s when the magic began to fade.
Hemet’s Antonia Nauhulu and Jade Gandara beat out a pair of infield hits setting the stage for a big inning. After a strike out by Mackenzie Miller, junior shortstop Taylor VanZee raked a double to left field that plated two of her fellow Bulldogs.
That’s when the flood gates opened.
Hemet tacked on five more runs in the inning giving them what would prove to be an insurmountable lead.
“We have to take our hats off to Hemet,” Skaggs said. “They came out here and performed.”
Samohi’s Garcia answered in the bottom of the third with a home run to left-center field, but it would be all the offense the Vikings would muster for the rest of the game. They would manage just four hits off of Hemet starting pitcher Cheyenne Gandara all day.
Hemet came back in the fourth putting two more runs on the scoreboard and again erupted for seven runs in the seventh inning that gave the Bulldogs their first championship in the sport in school history.
After the game, a number of Samohi players rubbed tears from their eyes as they lamented losing their shot at the championship.
Through all the tears, and more than a few frowns, Skaggs and star player Garcia are optimistic about next year. But, for now, they were just saddened by the lopsided loss.
Garcia, who hit four home runs during the playoffs, said that she expects her Vikings to return to form next year, but wasn’t happy with the way it went down on Saturday.
She said that the morale of the team turned during the third-inning Hemet onslaught, robbing the Vikings of the chance to battle back.
“I’m just frustrated,” Garcia said. “Everybody just got down in the dugout. We just weren’t playing as a team.”
On the other side of the diamond, Cheyenne Gandara was impressed by the Vikings, calling them the best offense they had seen all season.
Despite recording just four hits and a pair of runs, Cheyenne Gandara said that many of the balls Samohi put into play were hit directly at defenders. She said that if it wasn’t for the deft play of her defense, Samohi would have gotten on the scoreboard more often than just twice.
“I was surprised by how little they scored,” she said. “But, we fed off of it.”