Hart softball set for semifinal test

Brooke Marquez tags out a runner during Hart’s third-round CIF-SS game against Patriot of Riverside. The Indians play Ayala High today. Jayne Kamin-Oncea/For The Signal
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You’d be right to say Hart High softball is enjoying the ride. You’d be wrong to say they’re just happy to be here.

“We’re going to go for that ring,” said center fielder Jordyn Gasper.

Of course, they’re saying the same thing at Ayala High of Chino Hills, the school Hart plays today at 3:15 p.m. in the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 semifinals at Hart.

The Bulldogs are 24-10 and fresh off consecutive low-scoring, one-run games.

Freshman Sarah Willis, an Auburn commit, pitched a complete-game shutout in Thursday’s 1-0 win over No. 3 seed Los Altos of Hacienda Heights in the quarterfinals.

She struck out seven and walked one, giving up five hits.

She also hit a home run.

“Both are good teams; both have good pitching,” said Hart coach Steve Calendo on Thursday before knowing Ayala had won.

The last time Hart and Ayala met, according to MaxPreps, came in a regular-season, non-league meeting on March 28, 2009.

The Indians lost, 5-4, but, later that year, advanced to the Division 1 semifinals, where they lost to Norco, 2-0.

It was a game that, in some ways, embodied a Hart team that heavily relied on star pitcher Destiny Rodino.

This year’s group relies on its bats.

Hart Indians Juliette Owen is mobbed at the plate after hitting a solo home in the fourth inning against Patriot of Riverside. Hart won 9-8 in the CIF-SS third-round game. Jayne Kamin-Oncea/For The Signal

The Indians (19-12) average seven and a half runs a game and have scored seven or more in each playoff game.

The team’s top six hitters each average .429 or better at the plate.

“I’d say we have one of the strongest lineups out there, in this valley of course, and in CIF,” said Gasper, who’s hitting .454 on the year. “There’s no doubt in my mind we can come back from a 10-run deficit and still win.”

The Indians climbed out of a 5-0 hole to beat Patriot of Riverside on Thursday.

Ayala’s Willis and her 1.60 ERA may not be as forgiving.

The freshman has struck out 133 batters in 126 2/3 innings. Ayala also features senior Katelyn Williams, owner of a 2.12 ERA in 85 2/3 innings.

Hart has used both sophomore Mona Trevizo and senior Kylie Norwood in the circle during the playoffs.

Trevizo tossed a complete-game shutout against Paraclete of Lancaster in the second round, but she struggled through two innings Thursday.

Norwood came on and kept Patriot mostly in check.

“Amazing,” Hart third baseman Abby Sweet said of Norwood’s outing.  “Starting off at second base and then coming in and just putting some balls on the ground and also getting key strikeouts on some of them (was awesome).”

Whoever starts in the circle for Hart will face a lineup that’s hitting a solid, if not spectacular, .307.

The Bulldogs have hit 17 home runs. Willis has hit four of them. She appears, on paper, to be the team’s most complete hitter: .379 batting average, .434 on-base percentage and .631 slugging percentage.

Ayala has won nine of its last 10 games. Hart has won seven of eight.

Today’s winner will play the winner of Fullerton and Murrieta Mesa on either Friday or Saturday in Irvine.

Hart last played in a CIF title game in 2007, a 1-0 loss to Valencia.

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