By Jeremy Balan
After a regular season of dominance from Lowell High School, Washington stunned the top-seeded and previously undefeated Cardinals with a 4-3 win in the AAA/CIF-San Francisco Section final on Tuesday at San Francisco State University.
“We came here to win,” said Washington Head Coach Carrie Wert. “I was confident they could do it and I felt good coming into today.”
The Eagles (16-4, 13-3) used a three-run fifth inning, fueled by three consecutive singles and capped by a two-RBI single by sophomore shortstop Megan Chiem, to build a 4-1 lead.
“I saw [her potential] last year,” Wert said of Chiem. “She’s come through. She looks like a college athlete in practice. She’s a high-caliber player and a strong hitter.”
Lowell responded with two runs in the bottom half of the fifth, but Washington senior starting pitcher Lana Buchbinder retired the final six Lowell batters in order to secure the win.
“It feels great,” Buchbinder said. “This is what I’ve been waiting for my whole high school career. We were a little bit nervous in the beginning, but we fought through it and came out on top. I’m just overwhelmed.”
Buchbinder allowed two earned runs and was lifted by the defensive play of Chiem, who made a leaping grab on a soft line drive from Lowell’s Katie Tam in the seventh, that would have put the tying run on base.
Washington lost both regular-season meetings between the two teams, including a 14-0 blowout on May 4.
“We knew what we didn’t do right and we knew what we needed to improve on,” Wert said. “[On May 4] we just shut down and it was an off game for us, but we did our homework and we were ready and confident coming into it.”
The loss for Lowell (20-3, 15-0) was its first of the season in AAA play and the Cardinals were clearly emotional after the game.
“I wish we would have had a loss earlier in the season and not had the undefeated season,” said Lowell Head Coach Sascha Taylor-Ray. “The pressure was on us and it wasn’t on Washington. They had nothing to lose and we had everything to lose. We played tight and weren’t loose like they were. We weren’t playing the way we did all year.”
The loss was particularly hard on Lowell senior starting pitcher Alina Werth, who had led the Cardinals to three consecutive AAA titles. Besides the crucial fifth inning, Werth allowed only one hit and struck out four.
Werth had an RBI single third inning, but was also the game’s last out, on a popout to Washington sophomore catcher Teddi Pasion in foul territory.
“I am so devastated for our senior captain,” Taylor-Ray said of Werth. “Bottom of the seventh, two outs and that’s what happens. I feel her pain, but it had to happen to somebody. That was the toughest part. Even though she had that one bad inning, she came back again and kept throwing. She’s an incredible softball player and an incredible person to lead the team and to never give in.”
Lowell also had a difficult time cashing in with runners on base, stranding seven and committing crucial base running mistakes.
“Leaving anyone on base like that and the base running errors was tough,” Taylor-Ray said. “Today they were all so tense and succumbed to that pressure. We just couldn’t come out of that tightness.”
Washington advances to face the CIF-Oakland Section champion Skyline in the Transbay Championship. The first game of the three-game series is Friday at Lang Field.
“We don’t know much [about Skyline],” Wert said. “But I know, from my past experiences, that [the Oakland teams] usually have strong pitching.”
Lowell or Washington has won the last 21 AAA softball titles before Lowell’s three consecutive titles from 2007-2009, Washington won five consecutive titles from 2002-2006.
W – Xenia Mendez scores on a wild pitch
L – Alina Werth single to center, Kristina Saito scores
W – Jazlyn Jimenez single to right, Mendez scores
W – Megan Chiem single to center, Jamie Hom and Jimenez score
L – Cloe Roddy single to center, Abigail Young scores
L – Michelle Willis reaches on an error, Werth scores
Slideshow photos by Devin Chen