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Valencia repeats!

• Vikings beat undefeated Simi Valley to win softball championship

Posted: June 1, 2008 1:21 a.m.
Updated: August 2, 2008 5:01 a.m.

The Valencia Vikings softball team earned their second consecutive CIF-Southern Section Division I Championship title on Saturday at Deanna Manning Field in Irvine. The Vikings defeated the Simi Valley Pioneers who were undefeated prior Saturday's championship game.

 

IRVINE - It was a familiar sight. And yet it was unfamiliar.

The Valencia softball team held the CIF Southern Section Division I Softball Championship plaque for the second straight season. But many of the faces were different.

Valencia was the underdog. The prognosticators, the polls, and the preseason opinions were wrong.

The Vikings beat undefeated Simi Valley 3-0 in the final game on Saturday at Deanna Manning Stadium in Irvine becoming the first back to back champions since Marina did it in 1994 and 1995.

"I thought we would have a chance, not a lot of people did, it was really nice to prove them wrong," said Alyssa Garza who was a pinch runner on last year's championship team.

It was difficult to imagine Valencia celebrating on the field, taking team pictures, and high fiving at the beginning of the season. Five players were off at Division I colleges, including Jordan Taylor, who is now playing at the University of Michigan, and a mostly new crop was in to replace them. If anything, there was some uncertainty. Even Valencia coach Donna Lee didn't quite see it coming.

"No, if you talk to any of the kids, no," said Lee when asked if she thought the Vikings would repeat.

Her slogan for the day, however, contradicted her early season sentiment.

"I truly, truly believe," she told her team.

That belief earned Valencia the right to be called champions once again. To beat a team that was 30-0 was just that much sweeter.

"That is pretty sweet that we beat a team that was undefeated, you can't really say that too often, senior Jessica Spigner said.

The cast of leading characters in the final was similar and yet different. Spigner was solid as a rock on the mound, pitching a four-hit shutout. Her two home run semifinal performance was hard to top but she came close with her arm.

"I'm telling you that girl right there stepped up and she's just a phenomenal athlete," Lee said. As a coach, how often do you get to coach a girl like this? Probably once in a lifetime if ever."

Fittingly, she made the final two outs on a line drive back at her.

She tossed the ball to first for the double play. Unlike the semifinals, the ball wasn't a rocket. But also unlike the semis, this one meant more.

"It was a pretty good way to end the season," Spigner said.

But it was the bottom of the order that did the damage. In fact, all three runs were scored by players who didn't even play in the semifinals.

Against a team that had 18 shutouts in 30 games, scoring wasn't going to be a cinch. The Vikings took advantage of every opportunity that came their way.

"That's what we had to do," said Garza who went 2-for-2 with two stolen bases in the ninth hole.

With two outs in the bottom of the second, the eighth place hitter Shannon Fitzgerald reached base and advanced to second on an error by Simi Valley first baseman Haley Thomas. Then Garza hit a bloop single to right field scoring Fitzgerald. The throw from the outfielder was to first base, and the throw by Thomas home was slightly late.

In the bottom of the fifth, Valencia scored another unearned run thanks to a throwing error on the centerfielder who tried to double up Justine Sibthrop at first base. Instead the throw went into the dugout and Sibthrop, who was running for Spigner was awarded third base. She then scored on a base hit by Bethany Kemp to make the score 3-0.

In the bottom of the fourth, Fitzgerald scored the second run on a base hit by Madison Shipman.

The Vikings were the ones that looked like the undefeated team. They were aggressive on the base paths, they hit with confidence, and they played error less softball. The turning point in the season was the Tournament of Champions, which Valencia won, according to Lee.

"I thought ‘Hey, we have a good team, we have a very good team,'" Lee said. "After we won the TOC, the girls felt like we're pretty good."

And there wasn't the same pressure. Playing the underdog role was easier.

"(It was) relaxing because we just wanted to have fun out here," Spigner said.

So which one felt better? Apparently, it was a toss up.

"Last year was pretty cool and this year was cool too," said Spigner who played third base on last year's team.

This one was just different.

"Everyone thought this was supposed to be a rebuilding team and for us to come strong again it felt nice," Garza said.

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