Hart Indians softball was not fighting for a league championship in Thursday’s season finale with the previously undefeated Valencia Vikings. However, the Indians erased a five-run deficit and won the home-run-heavy game behind some deep shots and solid defense.
Senior Kate Penberthy led Hart to the 8-6 victory, finishing with her second two-homer game of the year in her last regular-season game at home.
Hart (19-9, 10-2) did most of its damage in the fourth inning. Catcher Kaylee Rodriguez sent a towering shot out of play to score a three-run home run that cut Valencia’s lead to 6-5.
“Honestly, I wasn’t even thinking in that at-bat,” Rodriguez said. “It was hot and I was thinking ‘just swing’ so I just swung and just went with it. I got the pitch and got the power of the pitch … It felt pretty good. After not hitting and being injured all season most of the season, coming back feels really good.”
Rodriguez was unable to swing a few months ago due to a back injury. Needless to say, the catcher is coming back into her own, just in time for the postseason.
Penberthy then fired off her second of the day for the go-ahead two-run bomb.
Valencia looked like it was cruising to the perfect season in the early going. The Vikes sparked early with four hits in their first four at-bats, including a three-run homer from freshman Blaire Rune.
Vikings first baseman Hope Seper then went yard in the second inning, to go up 5-0 on Hart.
Seper, Jeanelle Bacat and Haley Cheek led all batters with three-hit days.
Indians sophomore Allison Specht moved to the circle in the third inning, and slowed down Valencia at the plate from there. The sophomore has had a great chemistry with senior pitcher Emily Marr, as coach Steve Calendo has seen the two deliver for Hart all year.
“Emily didn’t have it today but Ali was fantastic,” Calendo said. “On Tuesday, Ally didn’t have it and Emily was fantastic. So those two have been like back and forth. Every game, if one of them doesn’t have it, the other one picks her up.”
Hart saw two-hit days from Rodriguez, Penberthy and third baseman Sophia Parra, who also sparked the game-winning double play. Specht had two on with just one out in the top of the seventh inning. The sophomore forced a ground ball that Parra recovered quickly. The third baseman was able to make the tag on Vikings base runner Allison Wolf before making the throw to first for the game-sealing 5-3 double play.
Even with no league title to play for and down in a 5-0 hole, Hart jumped on the opportunity to take down its rival Valencia, and clinched the second seed in league.
“We really wanted this one badly,” Penberthy said. “I think after the last game we knew that we could have done a lot better. So, to come out and have that team effort is really good. Our at-bats were a lot better this time around. I think we were more patient. And they did get up ahead of us. We came back. We were patient each inning and we just did base hits at a time and it helped us out.”
Valencia coach Sean Pollard has some things he wants to work on with the team but feels good about where the group is at heading into playoffs next week.
“We came out hot so it wasn’t like we took them for granted,” Pollard said. “We could have kept our foot on the pedal the whole time. But we’re right in it if a couple breaks go our way.”
The Vikings (17-5-1, 11-1) clinched the Foothill League crown last Thursday after a 12-0 win over Golden Valley but just missed out on the program’s second unbeaten season in league in three years.
Pollard has seen his group navigate the ups and downs of a season well, on top of most importantly just having fun.
“If things don’t go their way they don’t get too down on themselves,” Pollard said. “They still fight. We’re a family with one heartbeat. We had a little challenge today. So, it was good for us to regroup and then they did a good job in the last inning or two, getting back together and making a run for it. But they’ve done that all year and so it’s just been fun. They’re a lot of fun.”
The two teams could meet one another, or Saugus, again in the Division 2 playoffs. All three find out their destinations on Saturday when the CIF releases its softball brackets. Valencia and Hart are nearing their peak, but both teams think they could hit that mark in the postseason.
“We still haven’t played our best game yet,” Calendo said. “We haven’t had all nine kids going at one time but we’re getting close. As long as the other kids are picking them up we’re getting through, but to get deep into the playoffs, the whole team’s got to play their best. So hopefully we’ll get there.”