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Walk-off single in 10th topples La Habra

OCVARSITY.COM

FONTANA - Kaiser of Fontana punched its ticket to a second consecutice CIF-SS Division 4 championship game with a dramatic 5-4 victory over La Habra in 10 innings on Tuesday at Kaiser High.

Jordyn Buffum singled and Jesslene Contreras doubled to lead off the bottom of the 10th. Buffum probably could have scored the game-winner on the play, but she got held up at third by Cats coach John Stevens. The Highlanders intentionally walked Krystal Gabbard to load the bases with no outs.

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Sophomore reliever Taylor Pierce pitched four scoreless and hitless innings of relief before giving up the single to Buffum.

She got Destiney Henderson to hit a grounder to short and Maleena Esparza gunned down the runner at the plate for the first out. Linda Garcia lined out to third baseman Shanin Thomas, and Thomas almost doubled up the runner at third to end the inning.

That brought senior catcher Crystal Cerpa to the plate. Pierce left a pitch on the inside part of the plate and Cerpa turned on it for a single down left-field line to drive in the winning run. That put Kaiser (22-8) in the finals for the second consecutive season and ended La Habra's chances of reaching the finals for the first time since 1982.

"They were getting me on rise balls," said Cerpa, who was 0 for 3 with two strikeouts before the game-winning hit. "I know my best pitch is inside, so I knew if I didn't swing at that one I wouldn't get another opportunity. So I went for it.

"The only thing that was going through my mind was just relax and get a run through. I wasn't thinking about anything. I was just relaxed."

Pierce had an RBI single in the top of the second and a three-run homer in the fourth that gave La Habra (23-9) a 4-0 lead.

Garcia had a two-run single and the Cats added an unearned run in the bottom of the fourth to cut La Habra's lead to 4-3.

Kaiser loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the fifth. Garcia singled to left field to drive in the tying run. The go-ahead run was about to score before Pierce, who started the game in left field, gunned down a runner at third base to end the inning.

Gabbard went the distance, allowing seven hits and three earned runs, while striking out nine. She retired the final nine batters she faced.

"We started off kind of slow," Cerpa said, "but that's how we always start off. We knew we could come back. We just worked like we always work."

Esparza, a two-time Freeway League MVP, and Thomas are among the seven seniors La Habra will lose to graduation, but the Highlanders had two freshmen, three sophomores and a junior that started all season and will return.

"We have seven seniors and four of them are four-year lettermen and four-year starters," McCarroll said. "A couple of them are going on to college, which is always nice to see. You know, they wanted to win.

"I don't know if we'll see another Maleena Esparza for a while, but I hope we do. We'll be OK next year, but this is a special group and you wanted them to do well and get to the finals. Unfortunately, that didn't happen this year, but it was still a good run."

Contact the writer: carias@ocregister.com


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