The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
For the fifth straight season, the Lady Bulldogs are bound for the state final four.
After missing out on a the regular-season Coast Conference North championship for the first time since 2011, the College of San Mateo softball team settled the score with conference champion Foothill, claiming a 4-1 win over the Hawks in the California Community College Athletic Association Super Regional championship game Sunday at Bulldog Stadium.
CSM (36-6 overall) now advances to the state championship tournament starting Friday at Bakersfield Community College. Also vying for the state title at the double-elimination tournament in Bakersfield will be San Joaquin Delta, Mt. San Antonio and undefeated Cypress.
“Getting there is pretty tough,” CSM head coach Nicole Borg said. “The overall question is, ‘You keep getting there but you don’t win.’ Yeah, but getting there is hard. We’re going to do our very best and keep working hard, and playing together, and doing what we do.”
The Bulldogs are in search of their first-ever state crown.
Freshman right-hander Madison Mercer may have something to say about that. After opening the postseason May 5 with a five-inning perfect game against Yuba College, Mercer took a no-hitter into the seventh Sunday before settling for a one-hit, complete-game victory, improving her record to 23-4.
It was Mercer’s third straight complete-game win of the tournament, including Friday’s opener in a 9-1 win over Taft, and Saturday’s semifinal round in a 13-4 win over Sierra.
“She had a great weekend and we played really good defense behind her,” Borg said.
Facing an upstart Foothill team reinstituted this season by former Burlingame star Haley Woods, Mercer entered the seventh having faced one batter over the minimum. After issuing a second-inning walk to Hillsdale graduate Tori Pierucci, Mercer set down 14 straight until opening the seventh with back-to-back walks. With two outs in the seventh, Foothill freshman Mirella Osuna broke up the no-hitter and the shutout with an RBI single to left.
“[Mercer] was doing a good job mixing corners and she was changing speeds well,” Woods said. “She kept us off balance. She threw a great game, they played great defense, they had timely hitting and we did not.”
With Pierucci in the circle for Foothill, the Bulldogs staked Mercer to an early lead. In the bottom of the first, CSM leadoff hitter Meagan Wells greeted her former Hillsdale teammate with a shot over the third-base bag for a double. After a sacrifice bunt by Kristen Kowaki, freshman Allie Stines followed with an RBI single into right field to give CSM a 1-0 lead.
Pierucci went on to retire the next 12 batters she faced. With the way Mercer was throwing, however, it seemed one CSM run might be all the freshman would need. Mercer was razor sharp with her control, working inside and out with overbearing movement on her fastball that the Foothill bats struggled to square up throughout.
Osuna — a graduate of San Mateo High School — had the Owls’ best contact of the day in the fifth, smacking a sinking line drive to left that looked destined to break up the no-hitter. But CSM left fielder Emily Cotla came racing in to make a sliding catch. Mercer followed by retiring the side with one of her five strikeouts on the afternoon.
In the bottom of the fifth, Cotla came through with the bat as well. CSM opened the frame with two quick groundouts, but sophomore Samantha Dean snapped the streak of 12 straight Bulldogs set down by roping a double off the wall in right field. Cotla followed by delivering what proved to be the winning run, throwing an RBI single into center to give the Bulldogs a 2-0 advantage.
In the sixth, CSM added two more. Kowaki led off with a walk and Stines, attempting to sacrifice her over, legged out a bunt single. After an error loaded the bases, another Hillsdale graduate in the person of freshman Lauren Quirke roped a single under the third baseman’s glove to drive home two critical insurance runs.
In the top of the seventh, with one run in, Foothill had runners at the corners with two out with freshman Casey Glassford at the plate representing the tying run. But Mercer induced a grounder to second for Dean, who glove-flipped the ball to first baseman Jordan Davis to send the Bulldogs to Bakersfield.
For Woods, who pieced together a team for the new Foothill progame throughout the fall based much on recruits from her Cal Nuggets club team — including former Carlmont slugger Mariko Kondo, a Division I kickback from Syracuse — it was a quiet end for her Owls squad that made plenty of noise for its first year in the Coast Conference North. Foothill won the conference title outright, finishing one game ahead of CSM in the standings, though the Owls got help when a loss to Ohlone on March 2 was overturned with two weeks remaining in the regular season due to Ohlone using an ineligible player.
Foothill started the season with 11 players on roster, though two of them did not play softball as high school seniors, including one who had never played organized softball in her life, according to Woods.
“For most of the year, we were worried that we may or may not have a team,” Woods said. “So, to accomplish what we’ve accomplished has been unbelievable. The girls have worked their butts off. And I’m so proud of them.”