The article below originally appeared in The Examiner and is being reprinted with permission.
As every ballplayer knows, baseball is inherently a game about managing losses. After all, a hitter is conferred hero status if he merely manages to fail less than seven out of 10 times at the plate.
That’s why College of San Mateo softball coach Nicole Borg never even entertained the idea of an undefeated campaign entering this season, despite her team coming off a stellar 42-4 year in 2014. Somehow though, the Bulldogs pulled off the unthinkable — amassing a mind-boggling 35-0 record while steamrolling to their fourth straight Coast Conference title.
They will continue their historic pursuit in the playoffs this weekend. Despite being the state’s unanimous top-ranked team, CSM is the No. 2 seed in the NorCal bracket and will face 15th-seeded American River (20-17) in a best-of-three series beginning Saturday. Defending state champ Sierra (31-9) is seeded No. 1 in the NorCal playoffs despite being ranked fifth in last week’s state poll and losing to CSM 11-3 in five innings Feb. 15.
“Baseball and softball are games where really anything can happen,” Borg said. “Unlike some other sports, no win is ever a guarantee, which is why going undefeated just isn’t something you think about or realistically consider.”
After this year, Borg might have to re-evaluate that mindset. The Bulldogs have been simply unstoppable, finishing out their undefeated run with a five-game stretch in which they outscored their opponents 94-1. Yep, they plated 94 runs while giving up just one during that time.
The Bulldogs are led by a dominant 1-2 pitching combination of Lauren Berriatua, who leads the state with an infinitesimal 0.30 ERA, and Lacie Crawford, who has posted a 12-0 season despite being born without a fully formed left hand. Offensively, the Bulldogs are led by three players hitting over .500 — Berriatua at .567, Harlee Donovan at .541 and catcher Leilani Akai, who has also smacked nine homers and driven in 38 runs.
Borg said the Bulldogs are fueled by last season, which ended with CSM losing in the state final, a setback that put somewhat of a damper on a 42-4 season. With six sophomores returning from that team, Borg knew she was going to have something special in 2015.
“I tell the girls that they’re going to have a bull’s-eye on their back every game because they play for the College of San Mateo,” Borg said. “And they have truly embraced that. They never lose focus, they never play down to their opponent. They always approach each game like the team they’re playing is the best team they’ll play all season.”
The Bulldogs only have 13 players on their roster, and they were forced to deal with a rash of injuries this season, including one that knocked out their leadoff hitter extraordinaire, Melina Rodriguez, for 12 games.
“They knew heading into the season that each girl would be expected to play multiple positions,” Borg said. “And they’ve really stepped up their game to meet those expectations.”
If their postseason run is successful, they’ll deliver CSM’s first state championship along with their undefeated season. The winner of this weekend’s series between CSM and American River advances to the super regional. “We have a tough road ahead,” said Borg. “But I think these girls are eager to make history.”