In the life of a collegiate softball team, the day began like any other and rolled out like none other.
CMS traveled to Costa Mesa to open the 2010 season with a double-header against NAIA opponent Vanguard University. With a start time of 11:30am, no one expected game two to finish with darkness descending. Then again, no one expected to play 10-innings in game one and 9 innings in what almost became "the nightcap."
Gizelle Pera (JR, Los Angeles) started the attack with a triple to left in the top of the first. Freshman Harmony Palmer (Oceanside) drove her in, the first of her four RBIs on the day. Vanguard answered with two on a defensive miscue in the bottom of the second to take the lead 2-1. After a scoreless third inning, the Athenas scored twice in the top of the fourth to retake the lead. Once again, however, they allowed the Lions back in with a run in the bottom of the fourth tying the game 3-3.
The two teams deadlocked through five innings, beginning International Tiebreaker play in the top of the 8th. As the screws tightened, a defensive miscue allowed the Athenas to score two in the top of the tenth. Holding Vanguard scoreless in the bottom half, they sealed the victory 5-3.
The 1-4 batters for CMS went 6 for 15 collectively, scoring twice and driving in all three runs. Leading all hitters, Pera went 3 for 4 with a run scored, an RBI and a walk.
Sophomore Rebecca Gularte (Sunnyvale) went the distance in the circle scattering 5 hits and 3 runs while striking out 7 and walking 2 in 36 batters faced. Her focus and poise grounded the squad during an emotionally turbulent season opener, and her performance hinted strongly of things to come.
With little time to savor a great victory, the Athenas began game two slowly. A couple of early inning errors allowed the Lions to go ahead 2-0 after two. In the top of the third, however, Michelle Harvey (JR, San Diego) singled and stole second. Pera followed with a single to set up another clutch at-bat for Palmer. Stepping in with the calm of a veteran, the rookie blasted another shot to left and plated both Harvey and Pera to knot the game 2-2.
The draw held until the Athenas broke out for three in the top of the fifth. Again, Pera and Palmer were instrumental with back-to-back singles allowing junior Chelsea Baker (Tucson, AZ) to drive them in with a double to centerfield. Freshman Kendall Kritzik (Scottsdale, AZ) singled Baker to third and sophomore Rebecca King's (Bellvue, WA) sacrifice fly plated her putting the Athenas ahead again.
Unfortunately, the Athenas could not hold the lead and let the Lions back in allowing two runs in the bottom half to narrow their lead to 5-4 score after five. The following inning, Vanguard fought back and tied the game at 5 going into the 7th inning. Once again, Palmer (5 for 5, with 2 runs and 2 RBIs in the game) smashed a double to left center. Baker followed with another clutch RBI single to put the Athenas ahead. Like "déjà vu all over again", the Lions scored one sending game two into the exciting ITB format.
After a scoreless 8th, the Athenas plated one in the top of the ninth putting the pressure on the Lions. After pitching all 10 innings in game one, Gularte had retaken the circle in the bottom of the 7th for CMS in game two. Her pitch count approaching 200, the sophomore got stronger as the day got longer. She dominated hitters late striking out two in the 8th and one in the ninth.
After a day of extraordinary play, the final out of the game provided the perfect climax. The Lions had the tying run on 3rd and the winning run on first with two outs. Under fever pitch conditions, the batter hit a hot grounder into the 3-4 hole. Katerina Yale (JR, Yorba Linda) dove from first just missing the ball. Simultaneously, sophomore Emily Nordhoff (SO, Seattle, WA) dove from second and made the grab. In an awesome display of all out effort and head's up play, Yale got up and scrambled to the bag for a bang-bang force to end the game and finalize the sweep.
The dug-out erupted instantly as the two fielders were mobbed by their teammates. College sports is about, among other things, character building, espirit de corps, leadership, and rising above adversity. The CMS Athenas' performance Saturday was worthy of all this and more.
Look for the team next Saturday (Feb. 6) at Azusa Pacific University for a double-header starting at 12pm.