The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
The emotion of the Lady Bulldogs’ postgame celebration was the most animated of any of their 40 wins this season.
Deservedly so, as the No. 2-seed College of San Mateo softball team overcame an early deficit to down No. 8 San Joaquin Delta 7-5 in Sunday’s Super Regional championship game at CSM. With the win, the Bulldogs improve their undefeated record to 40-0 and advance to the state championship tournament starting Friday at Bakersfield College.
“This one is special, obviously, because we’re 40-0,” CSM head coach Nicole Borg said. “We didn’t care if we were a one-seed or a two-seed, it didn’t matter to us. We knew we were going to have to play and win three games to make it to the state championship. And wow, what fight we had this weekend. It was amazing to watch.”
It was the second come-from–behind victory over Delta in as many days for CSM. In Saturday’s semifinal round, the Bulldogs fell behind 5-0 in the third inning before the offense erupted for 13 hits en route to a dramatic 8-6 win.
“We haven’t been behind by five runs this season, but it didn’t seem to phase them,” Borg said. “That’s a really good sign.”
Delta fought back through the losers’ bracket with a 10-2 win over No. 3 Diablo Valley College Saturday to force Sunday’s rematch with CSM. The Mustangs knew it was going to take the upset of upsets to simply force a doubleheader scenario Sunday. And when the Mustangs rallied for three runs in the third to take a 3-1 lead, they seemed poised to do so.
For a CSM team that entered into play Sunday having outscored opponents 440-49 this season, playing from behind was a relatively new concept.
“This was pretty new to us,” Borg said.
But the Bulldogs came roaring back in their next at-bat. Playing as the visiting team at their home venue, the Bulldogs sent 11 batters to the plate amid a six-run rally in the top of the fourth.
The fateful rally was preceded by a big swing of momentum in Delta’s favor. The Mustangs touched CSM starting pitcher Lauren Berriatua for a three-spot, including a two-run double by No. 3 hitter Serena Hernandez on a sharp sinking liner to center field that CSM center fielder Brittney Wilkerson nearly made a sensational catch with a headlong diving attempt.
Delta cleanup hitter Taylore Barsi followed with an RBI single to score Hernandez, giving the Mustangs a 3-1 advantage. But having previously lost two close contests to CSM this season Delta knew there was a lot of game left to play.
“We were stoked but we know two runs is never enough,” Barsi said. “You have to have plenty for this team to beat them.”
The Bulldogs got the bottom of their batting order going to spark the comeback. And it was Wilkerson, batting out of the No. 9 spot, who ultimately tabbed the go-ahead hit with an RBI double.
Wilkerson often doesn’t get to bat, as the sophomore defensive specialist generally serves as the flex player, meaning the designated player bats for her in the lineup instead of the pitcher. After entering into play Sunday with the lowest batting average on the team at .256 though, Wilkerson came up with a big hit in the clutch.
Lelani Akai started the comeback rally with a leadoff single to left. After a two-strike sacrifice bunt by Christy Peterson moved pinch runner Janelle Rubio to second, Kaitlin Chang was hit by a pitch in the elbow on a check swing, setting the stage for the bottom of the order.
No. 8 hitter Riley Wells came up with the first of two consecutive two-baggers, scorching a liner into the left-field corner for a two-run double to tie it. Wilkerson followed with a similarly placed shot down the left-field line to drive home Wells with the go-ahead run.
“The second [time through the order] we came up strong,” Wells said. “And being an outfielder with Brittney, it’s just a great feeling to hit back-to-back doubles.”
Wilkerson said she wasn’t at all thinking of the double that fell in front of her in the previous inning when she stepped to the plate.
“There was a great rally going on,” Wilkerson said. “I was pumped up. I was ready. I knew I was going to get a hit. I just felt it.”
Kayleen Smith continued the rally with a two-out single to right. Then facing the Delta bullpen, the heart of the batting order served up the thunder when Harlee Donovan crushed a two-run home run to left field to give the Bulldogs a 7-3 lead. The bomb puts Donovan into the state lead with 19 homers on the season.
Delta didn’t go quietly though, producing a run in the fourth on an RBI double by Haylee Moran-Rowen. The Mustangs, however, stranded two runners in scoring position in the inning; they would leave seven runners on base throughout. In the fifth, Delta added another run on a solo homer by Barsi, closing the CSM lead to 7-5.
But, despite a dramatic seventh inning, Berriatua buckled down to earn the complete-game victory. Delta rallied with one out in the seventh as Hernandez walked and Barsi singled to bring the potential go-ahead run to the plate. And with two outs, sophomore Allie Mendez hit a rocket to left field that looked like trouble off the bat, but it was right to Chang who put it away for the final out.
“I was excited (when the ball was hit to me) and I was like — I better not drop this ball,” Chang said.
In Saturday’s semifinal, CSM sophomore pitcher Lacie Crawford emerged in relief of Berriatua to fire 2 2/3 innings to earn the win. Berriatua grinded for her 13th complete game of the season Sunday though; and Borg said she had no pause at leaving Berriatua in the circle to see it through.
“She’s earned it,” Borg said. “They’ve both done a great job, but Lauren is definitely the one that needed to be out there in that situation. … I was confident in leaving her out there.”
This marks the third consecutive season the Bulldogs advanced to the state final four. They have gone two-and-out in each of the previous two seasons.
Cosumnes River also advances from Northern California, having upset No. 1-seed Sierra in the other Nor Cal bracket. Neither CSM nor Cosumnes River has ever captured a state championship. Two-time state champion Cerritos and four-time champion Palomar will represent Southern California.