Monday, November 30, 2015 • 07:15

VC sports in 2013 — Lady Jaguars advance to CIF softball championship

January 06, 2014
As 2013 comes to a close, we want to look back at one of the highlights of the VCHS sports season: the varsity softball team's run through the CIF playoffs to the section title game against Mater Dei.

After all the pitches, hits, throws and catches of another softball season, the CIF San Diego Section Division IV championship came down to one ball and one glove.

Specifically, the glove of Valley Center pitcher Emma Sloman and the ball in her right hand, which the home plate umpire of Saturday's game said came apart too many times before she delivered, which led to the first run of a game that the Lady Jaguars eventually lost, ending the season on a sour note for the Valley Center players, coaches and fans.

"It was such a well-played game by both teams, and to have it come down to a bad call, it's just unfortunate," said Valley Center head coach Bill Dunckel after the game. "He made the call the first time, but for it to happen a second time, [Emma] just doesn't do that. She's a four-point-whatever student, and she's not going to make a mistake like that twice. So for him to make that call in that situation, it's unfortunate."

The Lady Jags advanced to the title game through the consolation bracket after falling to No. 1 seed Francis Parker on May 18. They responded with three consecutive wins over Clairemont, Imperial and a rematch against Francis Parker to earn their shot at the Division IV crown.

In the championship game against No. 3 seed Mater Dei at UCSD on Saturday, the call of an illegal pitch against the Lady Jaguars brought home the first run in a game the Lady Crusaders went on to win 2–0.

The first call of an illegal pitch happened in the bottom of the first inning with a runner on second base. The home plate umpire called time out, motioned for the runner to take third, and after the Valley Center coaches conferred with him, he went to the pitcher's circle to explain the infraction.

The second illegal pitch call came after the teams had worked their way through two scoreless innings.

Mater Dei led off the bottom of the third with a walk to get a runner on base right away. The next batter lined out to second base, but the next hitter came through with a base hit that put runners on first and third with one out. With Mater Dei's number three hitter in the box, the home plate umpire once again called time out and sent the runner from third to home, giving the Lady Crusaders their first run of the game. Once again, both Valley Center coaches came out to discuss the play with the umpire, but the run remained on the scoreboard.

Despite the difficult circumstances, the Valley Center defense responded by getting the next two outs and ending the scoring threat with minimal damage.

But the Lady Jaguars couldn't come up with the clutch hit they needed on offense, despite coming so close to tying the game.

In the top of the fifth, Nia Hutton led off with a walk and Coach Dunckel sent Madison Calbert in as a pinch hitter to lay down a bunt. She got the bat on the ball and kept it in play, but a diving play by the Mater Dei third baseman to make the catch kept Hutton on first base with one out.

Jasmine Contreras came up next and ripped a hard grounder back up the middle, where the Mater Dei pitcher scooped it up and turned to fire to second base for a potential double play. The throw sailed over the shortstop's head and into centerfield, allowing the Valley Center runners to arrive safely at first and second.

After a fly out, Hana Gilbert came up next, and after ripping seven hits in the last three games, the Valley Center dugout was buzzing with anticipation. Gilbert delivered with a single to right field, but the ball arrived in right field so quickly that Hutton had to hold at third base with two outs.

But with the bases loaded and two outs, the Lady Crusaders bore down and got a strikeout to end the inning and keep the Lady Jags off the scoreboard.

Mater Dei added another run in the sixth with four consecutive base hits, but once again, the Valley Center defense came through with a big play that kept the game from getting out of control. With the bases loaded and only one out, the Lady Crusaders got a base hit back up the middle on a blooper that scored the runner on third base. But when the runner on second tried to score, Anndrea Torres fired home to catcher Sukie Turner, who got the tag just in time to get the runner for the second out. The next batter grounded out to the pitcher and the Lady Jags still had hope of a comeback.

But it was not to be, as the Lady Jaguars could only get one runner on base in the top of the seventh, and the game ended on a groundout to the second baseman.

"It was a wonderful season, and I love the fact that you're mad that you didn't win," Coach Dunckel told his team after the game. "We had a fantastic season, and you should be very proud of everything we accomplished. I'm so stinking proud of you and the way you battled your tails off. We had a crappy call from the umpire, but we made some plays and it could've gone either way. But I'm going to focus on what a great squad you are and how tight you became throughout the season."

"This has been a season of firsts," pitching coach Chuck Sloman added. "You set the school record for most wins in a season, and you did it in fewer games than last year, so you set a record for the highest winning percentage in a season. Plus we won the league championship for the first time and we went further than any other team before us to finish as CIF runners-up. You should be proud of the season you've had. I'll be honest, I didn't see this at the beginning of the year. I didn't know half of you, but to come together the way you did, that's an impressive feat to accomplish everything we accomplished this year."

To get to the title game, the Lady Jaguars had to rise from the depths of the consolation bracket following their loss to Francis Parker.

But with a home win over Clairemont, followed by back-to-back wins over Imperial and Francis Parker in a doubleheader at the Poway Sportsplex on Thursday, the Lady Jags charged into the final.

Valley Center beat Clairemont 7–2 at home on May 21 behind a strong hitting performance by the top half of the lineup. Contreras had a double and a single and Sloman had two hits, but it was cleanup hitter Stephanie Koishor who delivered a three-run home run in the third inning that propelled the Lady Jags into the next round.

That set the Lady Jaguars up for a rematch against Imperial, a team they had beaten 4–1 at home a week earlier. This time, the Lady Tigers put up a much better fight, but Valley Center held on for a 9–4 win.

The Lady Jags took an early lead on a three-run home run by Gilbert in the bottom of the first, but Imperial came back with a solo home run in the third, followed by a three-run dinger to right field in the fourth that put the Lady Tigers up by one.

Valley Center answered right back in the bottom of the fourth, as Gilbert ripped a two-run double and Koishor added an RBI single as part of a four-run inning that gave the Lady Jags a three-run lead.

They added one more in the fifth when Brie Dunckel singled to lead off the inning and later scored on an RBI bunt single by Turner. Then they added a final insurance run in the sixth with three consecutive singles by Contreras, Sloman and Gilbert.

The big win sent the Lady Jaguars to the semifinals and into a rematch against Francis Parker in a game that began less than an hour after the game against Imperial wrapped up.

The top-seeded Lady Lancers got a boost from their unique playing surface in the first game, but on the dirt in Poway, the Lady Jaguars kept pace and slowly wore down opposing pitcher Jackie Buechler to take a 4–2 win.

Valley Center got on the board quickly, as Contreras led off the game with a single up the middle and advanced to second on an error by the centerfielder. Two batters later, Gilbert drove her in with a base hit for the first run of the game.

The Lady Jags extended the lead with two more runs in the top of the third, as Sloman led off with a single, Gilbert was hit by a pitch and Koishor singled to load the bases. Dunckel got an RBI with a groundout to second base, then Gilber scored on a wild pitch, giving Valley Center a 3–0 lead.

Parker responded with a run in the bottom of the third, as the Lady Lancers got two runners on with two outs and Natalie Contreras drove in a run with an RBI single. But on the play, the runner on first rounded second, and Torres gunned her down with a strike to third base to get the third out.

The Lady Jaguars got an insurance run in the top of the fifth when Gilbert singled and eventually scored when Torres got on base on an error by the third baseman.

The game came down to the bottom of the seventh, and the Lady Lancers looked to have a rally in the works when they rattled off three consecutive singles with one out. But relief pitcher Hutton battled back to get the next two outs, and the game ended on a leaping catch by Dunckel at second base on a flare that looked to be headed into the grass in right field.

"All I can say is, 'Wow!' " Coach Dunckel said after the two wins. "We've never been here before in softball, and you'd better believe that all those other coaches heading home are telling their teams that Valley Center is for real. Great effort, each position made a critical play. We're not about one player hitting six hundred, we're a team that plays hard, a team that pitches the snot out of it and plays great defense. I'm so proud of you guys!"

Valley Center finishes the season with a 22–6 overall record, a share of the Valley League championship and the runner-up trophy in CIF Division IV.

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