May 20, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

Fullerton rallies for extra inning victory over Hart in CIF Division 3 playoff opener

 Fullerton Coach Trevor Holton talks to his players after Thursday’s win. (Photos: Tom Connolly, For OC Sports Zone).

Abby Lee’s two-out RBI single in the bottom of the eighth inning propelled the Fullerton High School softball team to a 4-3 victory over Hart in a first round CIF Division 3 game Thursday afternoon at Fullerton.

The Indians (22-7) won their 10th consecutive game and will face Woodbridge in the second round Tuesday at Fullerton. Woodbridge defeated Burroughs of Burbank 4-3 Thursday.

“I just wanted to keep it simple and go the opposite way,” said Lee, a transfer from Troy who had two hits and three RBI and was playing in her first CIF playoff game. “It’s so exciting, it’s only my seventh game with the team and I never thought I’d get a chance to play in a CIF playoff game.”

Trailing 3-1 in the bottom of the sixth inning, Fullerton rallied for two runs to tie the game at 3-3 and eventually forced extra innings.

Ava Paquin singled to lead off the sixth for the Indians. She stole second and went to third on an infield ground out and then scored on Zoey Bautista’s sacrifice fly to cut the lead to 3-2. Emi Todoroki followed with a single and scored on Lee’s two-out RBI double to right to tie the score at 3-3. 

“I knew I had to be aggressive and get on base in the sixth inning,” said Paquin, a Sonoma State commit. “We learned a lot from this game, about our mistakes and it will help motivate us to get us going earlier.”

“This was a lot harder game than we thought,” said Bautista, who had three sacrifices, an RBI and three defensive gems in the field. “We know we can never underestimate our opponent, but we’ve been here before and I think our experience paid off.”

After Hart failed to score in the seventh and eighth innings, Fullerton took advantage of its opportunity.

Hayley Brock led off the bottom of the eighth inning with a single to right. Bautista sacrificed her to second. Todoroki followed with a single to right, but Hart’s right fielder Sofia Parra threw a strike to home plate to cut down Brock on a close play at the plate for the second out of the inning.

Alertly, Todoroki moved to second on the play on the throw to home. Lee then smacked a single to right and Todoroki slid home safely for the game winning run sending the Indians into a wild celebration.

“I kept saying I can’t let this be my last game, so I wanted to keep being aggressive” said Todoroki, a senior, who had three hits and scored two runs and also turned several outstanding defensive plays along with shortstop Melia Vera late in the game.“

“My job was to get on base in the eighth inning,” said Brock, who had two hits and scored a run. ”I had complete trust in my teammates and I knew they would get me around. This is a great start for us in the playoffs.”

Hart came out strong to start the game as their first four batters reached base and they took a 1-0 lead. However, starting pitcher freshman Katelynn Mathews limited Hart to only one run and got out of a jam, thanks to a 9-4-2 assist from the trio of Brock to Bautista to Maiah Rodriguez to cut down a run at home.

Fullerton tied the score at 1-1 in the first inning on Lee’s sacrifice RBI fly. The Indians would struggle for the next several innings at the plate as Hart starting pitcher Allison Specht retired 14 straight Indians batters through the fifth inning. Paquin’s single to lead off the sixth inning broke Specht’s streak. Hart built a 3-1 lead by scoring two runs in the fifth on an RBI single by Parra and an infield ground out by Specht.

Tianna Salcido (Tennessee State commit) relieved Mathews with the bases loaded and no outs in the fifth and kept the game close. The senior hurler gave up only two hits over the final four innings and earned the win for the Indians.

“I didn’t realize the bases were loaded when I came to the mound, but I was able to keep my composure,” said Salcido, who also pitched out of a two runners on and no outs jam in the seventh inning.  

Mathews was pleased she settled down.

“I was a little nervous at first but I felt a lot better by getting out of the first inning and only allowing one run,” said Mathews, who struck out six and has a 9-3 pitching record this season.

The Indians were without pitching ace Malaya Majam-Finch who is sidelined with a knee injury.

“We miss her and it’s good that we are winning without her, but we need her back,” said Fullerton Coach Trevor Holton. “They had more hits than we did and they got out of a lot of jams, but I feel our experience helped us, especially in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. We’ve played a tough schedule and we’ve been in a lot of tight games this season. This win is definitely a confidence builder.”

Hart (14-9) was led by Nia Melendez who had three hits. She entered the game with a .508 batting average.

“We had a lot of injuries this season, but it’s been a good season for us,” said Hart Coach Steve Calendo, whose team was ranked No. 23 in Division 3 entering the playoffs and came within a whisker of knocking off Fullerton.  

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—Tom Connolly, For OC Sports Zone