IRVINE — Twenty minutes earlier, in extra innings of the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 title game, Murrieta Mesa’s Zoey Clark had lifted a two-run, walk-off home run over the fence that Hart High softball now huddled behind.
In the aftermath of Saturday’s 3-1 loss in eight innings, Indians coach Steve Calendo might have been regaling Hart’s epic run through the bracket.
He might have been reminding his third-place Foothill League team about the multiple five-run deficits it’d overcome.
He might have praised the team for its highlight-worthy defense, Kylie Norwood and Mona Trevizo for their pitching.
The only word that carried back over the wall and onto the playing surface at Deanna Manning Stadium, though, said it all: incredible.
“We couldn’t have gone any further in the season. We went extra innings in the championship game,” Calendo said later, “and it’s only because of the heart and will of these kids. They won six do-or-die games to get here, and today they just didn’t have enough.”
Hart’s tightrope act took one final, dramatic turn Saturday.
After Norwood pitched her way out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the seventh, Murrieta Mesa’s leadoff batter reached on a walk in the eighth.
Then came the stuff of softball lore.
Clark put a solid swing on an inside pitch and sent it toward the center field wall.
Hart’s Jordyn Gasper took a few steps back, maybe contemplating home-run robbery the likes of her grab in a first-round upset of No. 2 seed Redlands.
Then she stopped and watched it go.
“I was pretty heartbroken,” said Hart senior third baseman Abby Sweet, whose team finished the year 20-13. “I just wanted to pick Kylie up because I knew she would put it all on herself, and it really wasn’t. She played a helluva a game.”
In the sixth, Norwood cracked one of her three singles before stealing second.
Catcher Aly Kaneshiro followed with a single up the middle, allowing Norwood to score with ease.
It was a courtesy Hart hadn’t been allotted in the third.
In that frame, Norwood singled to center, and Gasper looked like a shoo-in to score from second. But as she rounded the bag at third, she collided with a Mesa fielder.
Gasper returned to the bag.
The home plate umpire called obstruction on the play, but because an attempt to cross home hadn’t been made, no extra base was awarded.
“That was a big play,” Calendo said, “but we still had opportunities to score, and we just didn’t do it. “
In the eighth, Norwood singled and stole second, again. But a popup to first and a strikeout ended the threat.
“We just didn’t get timely hits and that was it,” Sweet said. “We took it down to the wire. I think this is the lowest scoring game we (were involved in) all year.”
Murrieta Mesa ace Autumn Pease made sure of that.
The Idaho State commit struck out eight and walked two in a complete-game effort. She navigated six Hart hits.
Hart starting pitcher Trevizo worked around eight hits in five-plus innings, the only real damage coming on Presleigh Pilon’s fifth-inning RBI double.
Norwood shifted from second base to the circle in the sixth with a runner on. She promptly induced one of Hart’s two double plays on the day and a soft line out to end the threat.
She showed a greater knack for escape in the seventh, using a pop out and fly out to keep the score 1-1 after Mesa (24-10) had runners at second and third with one out.
Then Mesa ended it in the eighth.
“It always has to come to an end, win or lose,” Norwood said.
They say all good things must.
Hart softball is now 0-4 in CIF title games… Norwood’s three hits give her 64 for the season, the most in the Southern Section, according to MaxPreps… this season was Murrieta Mesa’s first trip to the postseason since the school opened in 2009.