The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
The Lady Bulldogs may have exhibited a miscue or two. In the end though, they merely showed a different style of dominance.
The College of San Mateo softball team kept its undefeated record in tact by sweeping through the opening round of the California Community College Athletic Association regional playoffs. The No. 2-seed Bulldogs (37-0) downed No. 15 American River (20-19), surging late in Saturday’s opener for a 15-6 mercy-rule win before closing it out Sunday with an uncharacteristic low-scoring 4-1 victory.
Sophomore shortstop Kayleen Smith has been a force at the top of the batting order and in the field this season, and demonstrated her clutch sensibilities both sides of the ball through both games. She went 4 for 7 in the series, as her bat was integral to giving CSM the lead for good in both games.
Smith also turned in some key defensive plays to keep American River rallies from boiling over into big innings, including a pair of rangy plays — one in each game — to cut down lead runners at third base.
Then she turned in a defensive gem in the top of the fifth inning Sunday. With two on and one out amid a 3-1 CSM lead, Smith chased down a looping liner in shallow center field with a smooth over-the-shoulder catch; she then promptly fired the ball back into the infield for a double play.
“My defense did really well today,” said Lacie Crawford, CSM’s starting pitcher in the Sunday finale. “I’m so proud of them. That play got me so pumped up.”
Crawford settled in to earn the win Sunday, battling through five innings to allow just one run on three hits despite walking six. Lauren Berritua emerged in relief to close it out, earning the first save for a CSM pitcher this season.
Berriatua — the state leader with a 0.43 ERA — took the ball in the Saturday opener. She didn’t show her usual shutdown stuff, but then again, she didn’t have to. Despite the ace right-hander allowing six runs (three earned) on nine hits, CSM never trailed in the game.
The Bulldogs made some defensive miscues in the field, including a fourth inning that saw American River send 11 batters to the plate. But the offense compensated by launching six home runs in the game.
“I think we hit really well [Saturday],” CSM head coach Nicole Borg said. “I think defensively we struggled. That one inning was just not true Bulldog softball. But to have an inning like that and still come out on top, it’s a good sign.”
Smith served up the biggest swing of the bat in the third inning. After Melina Rodriguez and Harlee Donovan each hit solo homers in the first inning, American River roared back in the second to tie it 2-2. But the Bulldogs set the table in the bottom of the second with singles from Kaitlin Chang and Riley Wells.
Then with two outs, Smith battled through a seven-pitch at-bat before squaring up a low-and-in fastball to crush a three-run home run to left.
“I knew I had to protect the plate,” Smith said. “I knew she was going to try something different, so I looked in and I was ready for it.”
The Bulldogs added one more in the inning on an RBI double by Berriatua. They added another run in the third when Chang led off the frame with her fourth home run of the year.
But after the troublesome fourth inning brought American River to within a run at 7-6, the Bulldogs responded with three runs in the bottom of the fourth, before rallying for five in the fifth to win it via mercy-rule on a two-run bomb by Lelani Akai. But it was the leadoff home run in the fifth by Wells that stole the show, as the freshman smiled ear-to-ear as she sprinted around the bases on her first homer of the year.
In Sunday’s finale, Berriatua again added plenty of drama. CSM scored three runs in the first, sparked by a one-out single by Smith. Then after an Akai solo bomb in the sixth gave CSM a 4-1 lead, American River started the seventh with back-to-back infield singles. After a groundout moved the runners up, CSM opted to pitch to American River’s biggest power threat Jen Woo. Berriatua coaxed a comebacker for the second out of the inning; then she intentionally walked cleanup hitter Summer Muir before finishing off the game with a strikeout.