Verdugo Hills uses Timely Hitting to win City Section D2 Softball Championship
Gatailevao Leasiolagi hit a solo home run and drove in three runs total to lead the Verdugo Hills Dons to a 6-4 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the CIF City Section Division 2 championship. The contest was close throughout as each team matched the others intensity and effort. Each team defeated a key league rival of their opponent in the semi-finals en route to this matchup. The Cavaliers turned a tough West Valley League schedule into a deep playoff run with a 5-1 victory over the Arleta Mustangs. The Dons battled through the East Valley League before mashing through the playoffs, including their 13-5 crushing of the Taft Toreadors.
The Dons jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead in the first inning. Freshman catcher Lauren Brink led off the game with a hard single to left field through third baseman Jessica Van Zyl. Sophomore shortstop Emily Wagner hit a comebacker, and reached on a throwing error by starting pitcher Heavan Rodriguez, allowing Brink to score all the way from first. Vaoita Leasiolagi crushed a double to right field, scoring Wagner. Rodriguez responded by inducing a pop-up out and a groundout before getting a swinging strikeout to end the inning.
The Cavaliers came right back with two runs in the bottom half of the inning, immediately challenging Dons pitcher Julie Aguilar. Sophia Barrett and Yahali Gonzalez hit back to back singles and Jessica Van Zyl walked to load the bases. Aguilar walked Johana Granillo to bring home Barrett for Cleveland’s first run. Rodriguez helped her cause, scoring Gonzalez to tie the game with a sacrifice fly to center field. The Dons defense teamed up to end the inning as center fielder Jasmine Aquino caught a fly ball and threw out Granillo at first base.
Both teams went scoreless over the next three innings. Aguilar pitched around a couple of errors in the field and a double to strand a runner in each of the second, third and fourth innings. Cleveland, meanwhile, switched pitchers as they’ve done all season and sandwiched a 1-2-3 inning between the Dons getting runners into scoring position in the second and fourth innings.
Verdugo Hills broke through in the top of the fifth inning. Wagner hit an infield single to shortstop to start the inning and went first to third when Liasiolagi singled to right to start the inning. Liasiolagi took second base on the play. Gatailevao Liasiolagi brought them home with a double to center field. She scored the Dons third run of the inning on a single by Senior Nylah Beba. The Liasiolagi sisters hit the ball hard all game. Vaoita finished 2-4 and was robbed of an extra base hit in the sixth inning. Gatailevao also finished 2-4, with a home run and 3 RBI. “(The Liasiolagi sisters) in that 3-4 spot are unbelievable hitters.” Dons head coach Darren Fitzgerald said when asked about their performance. “(Gatailevao) stepped up big. She came up with some big hits with two strikes and … they just battle.”
The Cavaliers responded once again in the bottom half. Gonzalez hit a 2-run home run with Barrett on base to trim the deficit to one run. Aguilar, however, showed why she’s been the ace of the Dons staff, inducing two pop-outs and a flyout to end the inning. “I just wanted to start her today,” Fitzgerald said of his sophomore star, who was returning from an ankle injury,”I told her to let us know (how her ankle felt) and we’ll go with you as long as we can and she came up huge.”
Gatailevao Liasiolagi led off the top of the seventh inning with a booming home run to left field to provide an insurance run. Cleveland was not ready to hand the D1 title to Verdugo Hills. Barrett, who finished 2-4, with a walk and two runs scored, doubled to right field leading off the inning. Gonzalez, who reached base in all four plate appearances, singled to third base. Barrett took third base on the throw to first and attempted to score when Vaoita’s throw bounced past Gatailevao, but was thrown out at the plate after a quick recovery. Van Zyl followed with a double to right field, putting the tying runs in scoring position. Aguilar buckled down again and recorded the next two outs to kick off the celebrations of the Dons first City Section Championship since 1996.
Verdugo Hills will be participating in the CIF state tournament. They have been awarded a first round bye as the top seed in Division 5 of the Southern California Regional, and will host their first game on Thursday afternoon. Their opponent will the the winner of the contest between #4 Coastal Academy and #5 Bernstein. First pitch is scheduled for 4:00 pm.