Hart softball finds playoff swagger ahead of quarterfinal

Hart's Abby Cunningham (88) takes her at-bat during a CIF-Southern Section playoff game against Paraclete on Tuesday. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Before Hart High softball players had time to roll up the portable fence at Newhall Park on Tuesday, something had become clear.

You could feel it when Arianna Ramos and first base coach Jim Sudik knocked forearms after Ramos’ RBI single.

You could see it when shortstop Brooke Marquez and second baseman Kylie Norwood tapped their gloves together after turning a slick double play.

You could hear it in the opposing coach’s postgame comments. You could hear it all the clearer when Hart’s coach spoke.

“This team is a little bit of a different team. They’re confident and they’re focused and they have a goal of one game at a time,” said Indians coach Steve Calendo, whose team beat Paraclete of Lancaster, 7-0, Tuesday to advance to a CIF-Southern Section Division 3 quarterfinal today at Hart at 3:15 p.m.

Said Paraclete coach Margaret Neill, “I thought we did a good job holding them down. I know they are on a roll. They are on an upswing.”

Marquez pinpointed Hart’s 7-2 loss to Valencia on April 27 as the catalyst for the upswing.

The Hart High softball team meets in the pitcher’s circle to high-five after a play during a CIF-Southern Section playoff game against Paraclete on Tuesday. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Valencia pitcher Shea O’Leary hadn’t allowed a run through five Foothill League games to that point, and the Indians managed two off her in the first three innings.

“I think knowing that we’re in a super tough league and that we made the playoffs really factors in,” said Marquez, who has multiple hits in six of her last eight games. “… Since (that Valencia game), we’ve really had a high energy and a good team bond.”

Hart (18-12) has gone 6-1 since that game, finishing in a tie for third place in the Foothill League with Canyon and winning the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Cowboys to earn the league’s final playoff bid.

Three postseason wins later, Hart finds itself in its first quarterfinal since 2010 looking for its first trip to a semifinal since 2009.

To get there, though, the Indians will have to knock off a Patriot of Riverside team that’s won 20 games in a row.

Patriot (25-4) has done it with offense and pitching. It has a team batting average of .388 and two pitchers with sub-three ERAs.

Senior Belle Herrera leads the Warriors with a .586 average, 13 home runs and 53 RBIs. Junior Denise Armendariz has a .576 average, 11 home runs and 45 RBIs.

Patriot has scored more runs (264) than any team in Division 3. However, it’s come against relatively light competition.

The Warriors’ strength of schedule (6.2), according to MaxPreps, is 58th out of 59 teams. Hart’s, on the other hand, is fourth strongest at 14.6.

Herrera has a 2.81 ERA with 74 strikeouts and 31 walks in 74 2/3 innings.

If Hart wins it would play the winner of Ayala of Chino Hills and Los Altos of Hacienda Heights on Tuesday in the semis.

The Indians would play Ayala at Hart, while a matchup with Los Altos would be on the road.

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