The La Cañada High School varsity softball team boasted a talented, patient lineup and smart base running all season, helping the Spartans generate nearly seven runs per contest.
Those attributes disappeared in one inning last Friday after visiting El Monte Arroyo scored five runs in the top of the third, fazing La Cañada en route to an 8-5 victory in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 4 playoffs.
“They didn’t give up,” said LCHS head coach Chuck Gunter, who is in his second year. “I’ll give them that, but they didn’t play their best. They ran into outs and were guessing at pitches. They turned two double plays, which is pretty much the only other positive thing I can say along with the fact that they didn’t give up.”
Briana Rios belted a three-run homer in the third frame to help the Knights build a 5-0 lead. The deficit threw the Spartans (17-5 overall record) off their game plan, and it showed at the plate.
“It definitely changed the momentum,” said Arroyo head coach Laura Purcell. “The game was going quickly early, and it was going to end up being a tight game, and it was in the end. The three-run home run by our junior definitely helped. We just had to stay in it each inning.”
The Spartans often swung and missed at pitches thrown by Arianna Amezcua, who finished with three strikeouts.
“They were guessing,” said LCHS second-year head coach Chuck Gunter. “They were trying a little too hard and too aggressive. They didn’t stick with what they believed in and did all year. They’re a great hitting team when they believe in their bats. We hit a few good line drives but [Arroyo is] a good defensive team.
“It just changed the whole strategy,” Gunter added. “We hit for the long ball. We haven’t had to resort to much small ball because of how well the bats were.”
Amezcua held the home team at bay with a combination of low fastballs and an effective changeup.
“Our approach has always been to keep them guessing,” Purcell said. “The advantage we have is they haven’t seen us. Amezcua brings heat but the off speed was money today.”
Despite trailing 8-1 in the final inning, La Cañada continued to fight. Alexis Abboud started the bottom of the seventh with a single, followed by an RBI triple by Maddy Reilly.
Emily Tinkham was hit by a pitch and Meghan Henry walked to load the bases for Taryn Harris, who hit a grounder to the Knights’ shortstop. The infielder threw the ball past the second baseman and rolled toward the fence, allowing all three runs to score and cut the deficit to three runs.
Sophomore Grace Acero relieved Amezcua and struck out two hitters to thwart the Spartans’ rally and end their season.
Seniors Gillian Arnold, Abby Au, Diana Carranza, Annette Figueroa, Henry and Amanda Laughon played their final games as Spartans.
“It’s just sad for the six seniors to have to go away like that,” Gunter said. “They’re a great group, and I’m really going to miss them. I’ve been watching them play since they were 12 years old. It’s really tough for them to go away in the first round.”
Gunter guided La Cañada to its third consecutive Rio Hondo League championship with a 12-0 record.