The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.

The race to the top of the J.C. softball standings in the Coast North featured a tug-of-war between College of San Mateo, Foothill College and Ohlone College.

At least until last week, when Ohlone had to forfeit seven games, including five in conference, for use of an ineligible player.

The main beneficiary was Foothill, which had its 3-1 loss on March 2 to Ohlone overturned, thereby moving the Owls into a two-way tie in the loss column with CSM entering this week.

“This has been an interesting year,” CSM coach Nicole Borg said on Wednesday. “Obviously much more competition on our side of the conference, which is great. Both pitchers at Foothill and Ohlone have done a really good job. And Ohlone forfeiting the games put Foothill in the position to tie for a Coast Conference championship with us — pending if we both win out, obviously.”

Pending, indeed.

No. 7 Foothill (30-6, 11-2 Coast North) took care of business Thursday on the road with a 5-0 win at Chabot.

No. 4 CSM faced a much tougher task with a showdown in Fremont against Ohlone. The Bulldogs (28-6, 10-3) were tagged for three runs in the bottom of the first and the bats were stifled in a 4-0 loss.

The Owls can clinch the Coast Conference title on Monday at home with a victory over bottom-dweller De Anza.

Meanwhile, the Bulldogs might find themselves in unfamiliar territory after entering the NorCal Regionals as the top seed in three of the past four years — each time advancing to the state final four.

“We’ve played more close games this year than we have in a lot of years,” Borg said. “Our offense, obviously we apply ourselves to get better every day. And seeing better pitching has been a bigger challenge, and it’s a good challenge. So I think, for us, statistically we’re doing a good job, and now it’s all about who is going to score the most runs at the end, because pitching just gets better at the end of the season.”

For CSM, the 1-2 punch of freshman Morgan Mercer and sophomore Morgan Jones has split time in the circle, with the former throwing the most innings for the Bulldogs this season.

“It’s nice to have that duo who are going to fulfill most of the innings in the circle,” said Borg, whose team’s 2.27 ERA ranks No. 10 in the state.

The Bulldogs lost the powerful bat of catcher Harlee Donovan, a transfer to Souther Oregon, who belted 37 home runs over the previous two years.

That’s doesn’t mean CSM, which has combined for 23 home runs with three games left in the regular season, lacks a proficient offense. Its 82 doubles are third-best in the state. Combine that with a .399 average as a team — No. 4 in the state — and the Bulldogs still score plenty of runs.

“If we show up and we do our part, we can play with anybody,” said Borg, whose freshman outfielder Gaby Zucchiatti is hitting .558, which is fifth in the state. “On paper, statistically, we have one of the better hitting teams we’ve had in a long time. That’s saying a lot, considering we’ve had so many great hitters come through this program in the last five years. You leave Donovan off that list, and obviously our home run numbers are down, but batting averages, doubles and RBIs are still very high for us. And that’s a good thing.”

The heart of the middle infield consists of sophomore Samantha Dean and Meagan Wells at second and short, respectively.

But the burden of trying to reach the state final four for a fifth year in a row doesn’t belong to anyone in particular.

“I think everyone fills a role in terms of leadership,” Borg said. “It isn’t just one person that stands out in my mind that I can say, ‘That’s the person that makes us go.’ So they’re all doing their part to lead one another, and more importantly lead themselves to play their best on game day.”