By Jeremy Balan
A six-run second inning gave the Lowell High School softball team an early lead over rival Washington in the Academic Athletic Association championship game on Tuesday in front of a standing-room-only crowd at San Francisco State University.
But when the Eagles got back in the game, Lowell junior first baseman Majenta Strongheart provided some much-needed breathing room that proved to be the difference in the Cardinals’ 8-7 win to clinch their second consecutive AAA title.
With Lowell (16-1) clinging to a 6-5 lead in the top of the seventh inning, Strongheart lined a 1-0 fastball into the left-field gap that hit the outfield fence on two bounces for a two-run double.
Strongheart had gone hitless before the seventh-inning at-bat and committed a throwing error in the bottom of the six that allowed Washington (15-2) to cut the Lowell lead to a single run.
“It was really important to get that hit,” Strongheart said. “I knew I had to make up for previous errors in the game. That’s all I wanted to do, make up for that overthrow and my previous at-bats. I just wanted to wait for my pitch and smack it out of there.”
Washington got its first three batters on in the bottom of the seventh, putting the tying run on first base, but Lowell senior pitcher Michelle Willis got the three consecutive outs to end the threat.
“She didn’t give in and that’s the senior in her,” said Lowell head coach Sascha Ray. “She’s been doing this for so long and she even went out with a mild sprain in her ankle, but in the end, she came through.”
Willis, the Cardinals’ top starting pitcher, didn’t start on Tuesday, but came on in relief of Strongheart in the third inning and allowed five runs (two earned) in the final five innings. Willis admitted she didn’t have her best stuff, but in the final moment, she got Washington first baseman Shelby Urbina to ground out softly to Lowell third baseman Vanessa Lee with the tying run on third.
“It was definitely a lot of pressure,” Willis said. “In my four years of playing softball in high school, that was the most high-pressure situation I’ve ever been in. It’s kind of great to end the season that way and end my softball career that way, because it really tested all of our abilities.”
The Eagles took the first lead of the game on an illegal pitch in the first inning and battled back late, but never got the lead back after Lowell’s six-run second.
“They were hitting the ball well today and the strike zone was tight, so that didn’t help us, but we didn’t give up,” said Washington head coach Carrie Wert. “It just didn’t go in our favor today. It’s very frustrating, because we really wanted it this year for these guys.”
After Washington starting pitcher Alice Cen walked in two runs with the bases loaded in the second, Lowell center fielder Gretel Gunther and catcher Madison Donahue-Wolfe followed with back-to-back RBI singles and Samantha Yee drove in another run on an error to extend the Lowell lead to 6-1.
“Lowell was the better team today,” Wert said. “That’s what I told my team, that they were the better team today. Tomorrow or another day could have been a different story.”
Ray, who openly acknowledged that she felt Washington was the better team all season, has now won four championships in the last five years.
“I still felt [they were the better team] coming into this game,” Ray said. “They had the seniors, they had the players. It was like the moon and stars were in line for them, but sometimes it’s any given day, any given inning, any given moment, and if you don’t capitalize on that, you can lose the game.”
W – Alice Cen scores on an illegal pitch
L – Emma Nakayoshi walks, Samantha Yee scores
L – Kelly Wong walks, Carly Wong scores
L – Gretel Gunther singles, Vanessa Lee and Nakayoshi score
L – Madison Donahue-Wolfe singles, Kelly Wong scores
L – Yee reaches on an error, Gunther scores
W – Katherine Monterrosa scores on an illegal pitch
W – Emma Archer-Duste grounds out, Juliet Young scores
W – Cen grounds out, Monterrosa scores, Shelby Urbina scores on a throwing error
L – Majenta Strongheart doubles, Donahue-Wolfe and Yee score
W – Theodora Pasion reaches on an error, Kaitlin Blando scores
W – Monterrosa grounds out, Megan Chiem scores