As Morgan Jones dutifully shuffled out of Hart High’s dugout and over to a cell phone hooked up to the PA system at Newhall Park on Tuesday, someone in the stands called out a song title.
No, the junior softball player replied, there’d already been a request as Hart prepared to bat, tied in extra innings of a CIF semifinal with Ayala of Chino Hills.
With a few prods of her finger, AC/DC’s “Back in Black” filled the air.
Hart first base coach Jim Sudik began to dance, his movements not altogether unsmooth.
“He’s always so upbeat,” said Indians freshman catcher Aly Kaneshiro. “Even when we’re down eight runs, he’s always dancing.”
No matter the tenor of the moment, Hart softball has kept dancing this postseason.
Down five runs in two games? No problem.
Down three runs in the first inning of Tuesday’s CIF-Southern Section Division 3 semifinal? Not an issue.
“It was a battle of wills,” said Hart coach Steve Calendo, whose team walked off for the second straight game. “My kids have been falling behind and coming back the whole year.”
The comeback kids will face arguably their toughest challenge today, though, when they travel to Deanna Manning Stadium in Irvine to take on Murrieta Mesa at 12:30 p.m.
The Rams (23-10) enter the final, at least at first glance, as the Cinderella of Cinderellas. Before 2017, they’d never made the postseason.
Stats, however, tell a different story: Mesa very much belongs here.
The Rams finished in third place in the Southwestern League, but the top two teams, Vista Murrieta and Great Oak of Temecula, both play in Division 1.
The Rams, in fact, have the third best strength of schedule, according to MaxPreps, in all of Division 3 (16.8), one place higher than Hart (15.2).
In the postseason, Mesa has outscored its four opponents by a composite score of 36-1 on the strength of Autumn Pease’s pitching.
Pease, a junior, owns a 1.28 ERA and 249 strikeouts in 191 1/3 innings. She’s walked just 27.
“She doesn’t walk too many batters,” Calendo said. “She has a good rise ball, and my understanding is that she has good movement on her pitches.”
Offensively, the Rams score a little over six runs a game, propelled by the play of two freshmen: Lauren Randle (.486, 32 RBIs) and Presleigh Pilon (.440).
Mesa hits .345 as a team with 20 home runs.
Hart hits .375, with six regulars hitting .431 and above.
Senior Kylie Norwood leads the group with a .535 average. Her 61 hits are the most for any player in the Southern Section, according to MaxPreps.
Calendo said Thursday he hadn’t decided whether he’d start Norwood in the circle or sophomore Mona Trevizo.
He said he was leaning toward starting Trevizo with Norwood available in relief.
The strategy worked to near perfection Tuesday, as Norwood came on and threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing one hit and striking out nine.
Norwood throws harder. Trevizo relies more on hitting her spots.
One of them will be called upon to point Hart in the right direction in the biggest spot of all, a CIF final.
Hart’s been here three times before: losing in 1982, 1992 and in 2007.
The ’07 final was a 1-0 loss to rival Valencia, which boasted standout pitcher Jordan Taylor.
Pease isn’t Taylor. But she provides a challenge the Indians aren’t backing down from.
“I know that the girls aren’t afraid of anything,” Calendo said. “If they get beat by her, they get beat by her. But they’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Murrieta Mesa’s baseball team made the playoffs last season for the first time since the school opened in 2009. The squad beat West Ranch in the semifinals and won the Division 1 crown…. All four semifinalists in the D3 softball playoffs this year were third-place teams in their respective leagues…. If Mesa softball has a weakness, it might be on the defensive end. The Rams have committed 63 errors on the season, or close to two per game.