The final three games of the 2010 All-Star season were played on a beautiful Saturday morning. And a scorching Saturday afternoon. And a muggy Saturday evening. And it was a day of the good, the bad, and the ugly!
A bunch of 10 and 11 year old girls had come together from different teams, had played 30 games in 70 days, had compiled a 25-5 overall record. They had won three tournament championships, including The Tournament of Trees, Claremont's inaugural Fast-Pitch tourney.
They are The 2010 Northeast District Champions. They had placed 5th in States, quite respectable for a first year "B" Division team in a league of 154 girls competing against leagues with 600-1000 girls.
They had gone 3-0 during the Nationals run, winning twice by mercy and once by International Tie-Breaker. After earning a day off Friday, the squad looked rested, relaxed and ready during warm-ups.
Now, the championship quest began anew at 8 am, facing a Chino Hills Red team that plays 20 miles down the 71 Freeway in the beautiful Inland Empire. It would be the last victory for this group of individuals from Claremont, but it would characterize their season:
13 HEARTS - 1 HEARTBEAT!
In a season of great plays, gutsy performances, and gritty pride, this game included all of the above. It started off with visitor C-Mont scoring in the first off a hit, an advance, and a passed ball.
Chino Hills, playing with home privileges, evened the score in the same fashion, and went up by one in the third playing small ball. The score remained 2-1 until the top of the sixth.
Claremont responded with their usual "What, me worry" attitude. With one out, Cady got a hit and Taylor battled for a walk on an eight pitch at-bat. Kalena then dug in, and worked the count full on seven pitches.
Clutch was the new nickname I had starting calling Kalena, and she lived up to it again. After Cady stole a base, and a passed ball advanced the runners to second and third, Clutch hit a sharp single to right, scoring two and giving C-Mont the lead at 3-2.
It would be RBI's 19 and 20 for Kalena, second best on the team to Cady, who ended up with 32 over the course of the season. After an easy 1-2-3 bottom of the sixth, the girls went quietly as well in the top of the seventh.
Three outs and it's on to the next leg of the winners bracket. Nothing comes easy to this team, though, and the girls displayed again the heart of a champion. And the coaches displayed a level of trust in the girls seldom seen in the 10U Division.
A lead-off single started the action in the bottom of the seventh. Then, a shot to right-center went over the head of Elyse, who did not get a good read of the ball off the bat. Triple, run scored, game tied, no outs, runner at third.
"Erase - focus on next play" said the voice in everyone's head.
Decision time. Walk'em full and let the defense make the plays. Put your foot on their throat, pull their hearts out, and win the game!
Base-loaded, no outs. Chino Hills fans going nuts. Claremont fans going crazy. Chandler and the rest of the girls just locked down in the zone. Tugboat got ahead 0-2, and induced a grounder to Kalena, who fired a bullet to Cady at the plate. OUT!
Bases loaded, one out. The crowd is going wild. On the hitters pitch - 2 balls and a strike - Ting! Fly ball to center. Elyse tracking it down, making a running catch going away from the infield. OUT!
Then, with an effort seen time after time this year, she comes around firing. Bang! Runner straying too far off first. OUT!
Double play ends the rally. Put foot on throat.
International Tie-Breaker places a runner on second base, Katie K this time. Elyse lays down the perfect bunt down the line towards first. Beats the play, steals a base, runners at second and third, no outs.
Cady's double plates both runners, Taylor's single scores Cady, Kalena's text-book sac bunt advances the runner, and Savannah's misplayed fly ball allows another run. A couple of strike-outs end the threat and puts the girls on defense.
Hang a four-spot on the home team. Pull heart out.
A great play by Savannah to get the lead runner started the bottom of the inning. One out. After a hitter reaches on an error, Chandler handles a come-backer. Two outs, runner at second. A four pitch strike out ended the game, on as wicked a change up as seen this season.
Scoreboard says 7-3. Win the game.
These girls had done it again. Snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Individually, they flat out gave everything they had. Collectively, they illustrated the never say die mentality that became a hallmark of this special group of young ladies.
That mentality will be tested severely in the next two games, against Alpine Valley and Bonita Valley. Can you say Grudge Match? Check back soon for the next post chronicling the Little League That Could.