SAN MARCOS (5-11-2018) (5-12-2018) / WALNUT (5-15-2018) -- After having to come from behind to beat visiting Antelope Valley 8-6 to sweep their Best-of-3 Super Regional Series 2 games to 0 on Saturday, coach Lacey Craft's Palomar softball team will open play in the eight-team, four-day double-elimation CCCAA State Championship Tournament at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut on Thursday.
The Comets (38-3), the No. 1 Southern California seed, will play San Joaquin Delta College of Stockton (28-16), the No. 4 Northern California seed, in their opening game on Thursday at 4:30 p.m., with State Pitcher of the Year Alicia Garcia (25-0) in the circle for Palomar.
In the other first-round games Thursday, No. 2 South seed Mt. SAC (38-7) defeated No. 3 South Ohlone (34-13) 2-1; North No. 1 seed College of San Mateo (39-4) plays No. 4 South seed El Camino (35-10) at 1:30 p.m.; and North No. 2 seed Sierra (37-7) plays South No. 3 seed Cypress (37-7) at 7 p.m.
The tournament will continue on Friday and Saturday and conclude a four-day run on Sunday. The final two teams will off for the state title Sunday, with the team coming out of the losers' bracket needing to beat lone remaining undefeated team in the tournament twice to win the tournament. Sunday's first game is scheduled for noon with an additional game, if necessary, to follow.
If Palomar defeats Delta, the Comets will play the Sierra-Cypress winner on Friday at 1:30 p.m. The Comets vs. Delta loser would immediately drop into the losers' bracket needing to win multiple games later Friday and on Saturday to reach get to the Sunday game(s). Every game will be played at Mt. SAC except two losers' bracket games at Citrus College in Glendora on Friday afternoon.
Palomar will be seeking its sixth state championship and third under Craft, an ex-Palomar and San Diego State standout who is in her eighth season as head coach.
Friday, May 11: Palomar 8, Antelope Valley 0
Garcia threw a 5-inning mercy-rule no-hitter, blowing away the visiting Marauders as she allowed only 2 baserunners, on a lone walk and an error. Along the way, Garcia struck out the side on 10 pitches in the third inning as he ran her season's win-loss record to 24-0. She struck out 6.
State Player of the Year Sarah Fisher highlighted a 13-hit attack for the Comets by going 3-for-3, slugging a home run, stealing a base and scoring 2 runs. Garcia helped her own cause offensively by going 2-for-3, doubling and scoring 2 runs.
Kylie Pignone (2-for-3, RBI) and McKenna Crawford (2-for-3) also had multiple-hit games.
Allie Hughes went 1-for-3 with 2 RBIs and a run scored. Crystal Moore-DesLauries was 1-for-3 with an RBI, a run scored and a steal. Jillian Zamora was 1-for-2, walked and drove in a run. And PCAC All-Sports Women's Athlete of the Week Brynn Miller went 1-for-3, walked and scored 2 runs.
Palomar jumped out to a 5-0 first-inning lead that was highlighted by Hughen's 2-run single, Garcia's double, Moore-DesLauriers' RBI single and singles by Fisher and Crawford.
Fisher led off the bottom of the second with a home run as the Comets extended their lead to 8-0. Pignone and Zamora also each singled to drive in a run, and Garcia, Miller and Crawford added singles as Palomar knocked out 6 hits in the inning.
Saturday, May 12: Palomar 8, Antelope Valley 6
The Comets' 20th straight win, in which the Comets had to come from behind to defeat Antelope Valley in Game 2 of one of four CCCAA Southern California Super Regionals that were played over the weekend, was not pretty. But it definitely was functional.
It gave the Comets the series sweep and sends them to Mt. SAC with the top seed in Southern California, the top RPI in the state and the No. 2 ranking in the state behind only San Mateo, ranked No. 1 by the California Community College Fastpitch Coaches Association.
Neither Garcia nor many of her teammates had good days, or at least didn't early on in the game. Garcia encountered control problems for the first time during a season in which she leads the state in wins (she was 24-0 going into Saturday's game) and also leads the state in earned run average, shutouts, strikeouts, strikeouts to walks ratio -- and dominating outings.
Antelope Valley starting pitcher Isabelle Gomez, who came into the game with a 5.56 earned run average, retired the first eight Palomar batters before Jillian Zamora singled with two outs in the third inning. Once the Comets got their offense going, they eventually chased Gomez after tagging her for eight runs on 11 hits over six innings.
Bottom line: the Comets found a way to get the job done -- which Craft demands and great teams are prone to do -- as they came back from early 2-0 and 3-1 deficits. And Garcia retained her focus and intensity throughout her worst outing of the season as she struggled to find the plate for the first time in a Palomar uniform and was tagged for six runs (five earned) in six-plus innings. She eventually left the game in the seventh inning after giving up a walk and a two-run homer to the first two batters in the inning. But, as the game wore on, Garcia bore down and made some outstanding pitches to get the Comets out of trouble. She also made an athletic defensive play and made a big contribution at the plate by banging out a two-run double.
Craft finally relieved Garcia with Hughen the state saves leader and all-state closer who still has not allowed a run, earned or unearned, in 40 2/3 innings, with none out in the seventh. Hughen, who is Craft's shortstop unless she's brought in to close, slammed the door on the Marauders and struck out two batters.
The Comets' position players also kept their focus on a bad day and after Palomar's slow start at the plate started banging the ball around (not a major surpriese; the Comets lead the state in hitting) and also made up for some early miscommunication problems on defense with big defensive plays (also not a major surprise; Palomar also leads the state in fielding percentage).
Fisher led what wound up being a 12-hit attack for the Comets by going 3-for-4 with a double and 3 RBIs. Also with multiple-hit games for Palomar: Zamora (2-for-2 and 3 runs scored, who also stole a base); Keyona Villanueva (2-for-4, 2 runs scored) and Pignone (2-for-4, 1 RBI). Moore-DesLauriers and Crawford each contributed a double.