Verdugo Hills Fights to the Final Out in CIF Southern Region Finals
One of the principles Verdugo Hills Dons head coach Darren Fitzgerald preaches is battling and not giving up regardless of what the situation is or the scoreline reads. The Dons fought through adversity during the regular season, including tough losses to Chavez and Arleta. They also won key games without their starting pitcher Julie Aguilar en route to winning the CIF City Section Division 2 championship in her first start back from injury. That victory earned the Dons the #1 seed in the CIF State Southern Region Division 5 tournament, and a first round bye.
It was an overcast afternoon, on June 1 when Verdugo Hills faced off against a Coastal Academy team that was fresh off of a 20-0 drubbing of Bernstein. The Stingrays wasted no time getting on the scoreboard as Aguilar struggled with her command. They crossed the plate 3 times in that first inning, but the Dons would not back down.
Freshman catcher Lauren Brink led off the bottom half of the inning with a walk before the Dons batted around and Brink returned to the plate to crush a 2-out triple to right field. In between her two at bats Verdugo Hills scored 7 times, highlighted by a three-run home run by sophomore Bella Garibay. The Dons would bat around in every inning they came up to plate, registering five, six, and six runs in the second, third and fourth innings respectively.
Coastal Academy tried to keep the game close, scoring multiple times themselves in the second, third and fourth innings, but they were unable to match the sheer hitting ability of Verdugo Hills. “We matched everything they did,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s what we had to do. After they put up three in the first, to come back with seven was huge for us. Every time they chipped away, we put more on.”
Though Aguilar labored a bit in the circle, conceding 10 total runs, she fought through, finishing with three strikeouts and stranding runners on base to limit the damage done by the Stingrays. “She fought, battled and battled.” Fitzgerald said as he reflected on his ace pitcher’s performance afterwards.
The Dons offensive prowess allowed them to pile up 24 runs, and invoke the run-rule after holding Coastal Academy off the board in the top of the fifth inning for a 24-10 victory. Next up for Verdugo Hills was a CIF Southern Regional Finals contest against the Madison Warhawks on Saturday afternoon, June 3.
In their CIF Southern Region Division 5 Finals matchup against the Madison Warhawks, the Dons continued to battle before ultimately falling by a score of 11-3. The Warhawks jumped out to an early 3-0 lead, and later added three more runs in the second inning to hold a comfortable 6-0 advantage. That comfort, however, was only on the scoreboard as Verdugo Hills had baserunners in every inning, and had the bases loaded in the bottom of the first and sixth innings.
The Dons found the scoreboard in the bottom half of the second inning when Alondra Torres Melgar came around to score after working a leadoff double. Kassandra Benavides was second up to bat, and she crushed a double that brought Torres Melgar home from first base, but Benavides was tagged out in between second and third base trying to stretch her double into a triple. Verdugo Hills got runners into scoring position with two outs following singles by Brink and Emily Wagner, but power hitting third baseman Vaoita Leasiolagi’s powerful drive was right at the center fielder to end the inning.
Verdugo Hills put runners in scoring position in the third and fifth innings, but Warhawks starter Audrina Burnett ended the third with back to back strikeouts and her relief Sierra Minshew ended the fifth with three straight strikeouts to keep the Dons at bay. Facing a 10-1 deficit, Verdugo Hills did not pack it in, but instead showed the fight that allowed them to reach a point that no previous team ever had before.
Aguilar led off the bottom of the sixth inning with a walk and Brink ripped a one-out double off the left field fence to put runners at second and third. Wagner battled for a full-count walk to load the bases. Vaoita earned an RBI when she reached on a fielding error, and her sister Gatailevao Leasiolagi had an RBI groundout to cut the deficit to 10-3. Minshew again stranded runners in scoring position with a strikeout to end the inning.
Though the Dons weren’t able to muster any hits in the seventh inning, senior Meghan Echea led off the inning with her second walk of the game before Minshew locked in and struck out the next three batters to give Madison the CIF Southern Regional championship. “They fought the entire game, and that’s all we can ask for,” said Fitzgerald after the game, “We had a chance, and we can compete, and we did. They’ve done more than any other team in Verdugo history. I’m so proud of them.”