The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
You’re not going to believe this.
Because of the infinite ways to describe the how and why behind the College of San Mateo softball team’s latest win — the one sending them to the California Community Colleges Athletic Association’s Final Four for the first time since 2000 — there is one word that captures it best.
You won’t believe that CSM ace Michelle Pilster had her worst outing of the season — surrendering eight runs in just three innings of work.
You won’t believe that the Bulldogs were down 8-2 after those three innings following a couple of huge, back-breaking fielding errors — mistakes completely atypical of the CSM style of play this season.
You won’t believe that the College of San Mateo roared back to tie the game 8-8 only to see the upstart West Valley Vikings tack on four runs and take a 12-8 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning.
And you definitely won’t believe that CSM mounted an epic five-run rally in the bottom of that seventh, punctuated by the Bulldogs’ MVP of the postseason — Talisa Fiame — and her two-out, two-run, walk-off single that won the game for the College of San Mateo 13-12 at the Northern California Super Regionals.
But yes, rest assured, all of that happened.
And in what has to go down as one of the most exciting, unbelievable, down-right classic softball games in CSM’s history, the Bulldogs accomplished a destiny vested upon them when the season started back in late January and are headed to Bakersfield to play in the CCCAA Final Four for the first time under manager Nicole Borg.
“I’m on Cloud 9 right now,” Borg, who celebrated her child’s first birthday with a win on Sunday, said. “It’s awesome. It couldn’t be any better. Especially with what happened last year — with us being expected to make it that far and falling short and me not being there that day, it’s awesome. It’s awesome.”
“It’s amazing,” Fiame said. “I’m very happy and I’m extremely stoked. My heart was racing. I was extremely nervous. But I believed in myself that I could get the job done. I was just looking for a strike. A perfect strike. And that’s what I got.”
It’s safe to say CSM got a lot more than they bargained for from the Vikings. A fifth-place finisher in the Coast Conference South Division, West Valley completely blitzed Pilster and the Bulldogs right out of the gate, scoring three runs in the first, one in the second and four in the fourth — up until Sunday’s game, CSM had yet to surrender more than six runs in a single contest or more than four in a single home game.
West Valley scored those eight runs on seven hits, five walks and two errors.
“It’s an unfortunate time of the year to have as many errors as we had because we’ve been so solid defensively,” Borg said. “But the thing I love about this game is we were able to overcome that and learn from our failures. West Valley challenged us.”
Fiame’s fourth homer in five games plus a Jenn Davidson RBI single in the second had CSM hanging around to the tune of 8-2 when Pilster was pulled for Amelia Shales.
And with No. 17 pitching, the first big momentum swing of the afternoon occurred. Shales went 1-2-3 in the fourth and the CSM offense responded by scoring six runs to tie things up 8-8. Davidson, Jamie Navarro, Fiame and Pilster picked up big hits in the frame.
“I think that was huge momentum shift for us,” Borg said of Shales’ pitching. “She’s waited a long time for that. And she’s really proved that she belongs in that circle. Amelia came in and did a great job. She gave us a chance to win that game.”
“I tried to maintain mental confidence the whole season and keep myself on the same mental plane so in that situation I can come in and do what I need to do,” Shales, who had to battle back from an ankle injury this year, said. “Coming into that, I’ve been waiting to come into a situation where the pressure is on me. I’m ready for that. We’re prepared for that.”
West Valley would not be silenced for long. The Vikings put up a two-spot in the fifth then added single runs in the sixth and seventh. In all, West Valley scored in every inning except the fourth and that had them up 12-8 come the game’s final inning.
A loss in Game 1 of the NorCal Super Regional would have meant a Game 2, winner-take-all elimination game. And for all intents and purposes, it looked like the Mother’s Day crowd that gathered at Tom Martinez field was preparing for just that.
But CSM had other intentions.
“Confidence, I’d say. We all know we can hit,” Shales said when asked what the attitude of the dugout was prior to the seventh inning. “We’re a great team. We just knew we had to get it done. We all had confidence in each other.”
Natalie Saucedo led off with a walk and would come around to scored after a passed ball and a Pilster single. After a Mikayla Conlin fielder’s choice and a Kristin Petrini fly out, Davidson drew a walk and Selina Rodriguez followed with a single to make it 12-10. A couple of walks to Kaylin Stewart and then Navarro made it a one-run game and brought CSM’s Wonder Woman, Fiame, to the dish.
“She’s just a natural at this game,” Borg said. “You never know how good she is because she never talks about herself. But she puts in the time. The ongoing joke is that Talisa would be here under the lights all night hitting. She puts in the time and that’s why she gets the results. I think everybody did a great job. We have to be able to execute small ball and get big hits when we need to.”
On the third pitch she saw, Fiame got the biggest hit of the Nicole Borg era, lining a shot to left that plated two, set the CSM bench in an uproar and sent the Bulldogs to the Final Four.
“That’s what this game is all about,” Borg said. “Playoff time. Both teams never gave up. West Valley is a great team. Offensively they’re tough. That’s what playoffs are all about. We play until it’s over. You hate to see anyone lose that game because both teams fought so hard.”
“I think we all wanted to win really badly,” Fiame said. “That was our main goal. We just had to pick each other up and have a positive mentality. When you’re down, you can’t think negatively. You already defeated yourself. You have to have a positive mentality and you’ll get the job done if you believe.”