Shades of last year’s CIF Southern Section championship run are starting to hover over Lompoc Braves softball.
Last year saw a six-game winning streak to seal the program’s first CIF title as a Division 5 competitor. Now, Lompoc has completed its regular season in red-hot fashion with a 10-5 road win over Santa Ynez in Thursday's regular season finale — rewarding the Braves with their seventh consecutive victory and a tie for second in the Los Padres League standings.
And the Braves (17-6, 10-4 in the LPL) broke out of a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the fifth with some high-powered swings that turned the game into a six-run lead.
Senior Cheyenne Marmolejo, who earned a CIF championship ring one season ago, started the powerful swings with her double. Then, Jayden Andrade blasted a sacrifice fly ball for the RBI. After Sierra Preston took a walk, Mariah Villalobos pounded a single to right field that drove in Preston and gave LHS the two-run lead.
Kendel Martin, Alana Elizondo and Michelle Hill all ended the inning with their RBI’s – and assured that Lompoc was going to close out the regular season with another big win.
“It’s unbelievable, honestly. We struggled in the beginning, but we fought through and came back,” Elizondo said.
The top of the seventh saw Hill provide the death nail, as she sent the ball flying over center field to bring in Elizondo and herself to home plate. The two-run home run blast lifted the Braves to a 10-3 lead.
“I believe it was an inside fastball. I love those pitches so I took it and barely even felt it on my bat. It’s an incredible feeling,” Hill said.
Defensively, Lauren Wade continued her mound dominance by helping keep the Pirates away from home plate for three innings before a Yesenia Vega double scored Nicole Atiles and made it 8-3. Wade even got a tag out at home plate after flinging a wild pitch in the bottom of the third, preventing Vega from scoring for Santa Ynez (16-7, 10-4 in the LPL).
Wade pitched until the top of the sixth inning, collecting her seventh consecutive victory. Pirates pitcher Armani Garcia struck out eight batters in five innings, but saw things unravel in that fifth inning.
The Pirates showed some mental lapses in the outfield on multiple occasions, from not controlling the ground ball for the potential tag out to not hauling down the catch on pop fly balls. Head coach Denicia Gills called it a game of mistakes for her team.
“They came out and played a better game than us today. And at the end of the day, that’s what it came down to,” Gills said. “We made mistakes defensively and we didn’t take advantage of the opportunities where we had runners in scoring position. They were solid. They didn’t have any errors and we made more mistakes than they did.”
Both teams are likely to have a home game, with CIF softball playoff seedings to be unveiled on Monday. The Pirates, who compete in Division 7, could still earn an opening round home game according to Gills.
“We find out on Monday. It’s the luck of the draw,” she said.
As for the 2016 CIF Southern Section D5 champion Braves, they’ll now prepare for the much more competitive D3 realm — where powerhouses like Redlands, Riverside Patriot and Newbury Park will await them as all three have won their past 23 games in the regular season.
Elizondo said LHS had talent to begin with before the season started, but now the Braves are growing a stronger bond.
“Honestly, from the beginning of the season we knew we were good but we were not clicking as a team. But now it’s amazing because we’re working as a family,” Elizondo said.
And what would it mean to go back-to-back on West College Ave.?
“That would be so great. I would love to have that happen. We’ve just got to want it,” Elizondo said.