IRVINE --- Santa Margarita's softball team soared like Eagles for 6 1/2 innings in their first appearance in the CIF-SS Division 1 finals before facing a wild rally by Corona in the bottom of the seventh on Saturday night at Bill Barber Park.
The Panthers put eight runs on the scoreboard in the bottom of the seventh before the Eagles got Corona's Loie Kesterson trying to take an extra base on a crazy play to end the game.
Eight runs were not enough. Santa Margarita pulled out a 12-9 victory over Corona to claim the championship.
Emily Rogers' RBI single got things rolling for the Panthers in the bottom of the seventh. The Panthers had the bases loaded, but they were down to their final out. Letourneau walked Young to force in a run. Then Jordan Learn delivered a two-run single to cut the Eagles' lead to 12-5. Maddy Stainbrook walked to load the bases again.
Katie Padilla got hit by a pitch, but the plate umpire ruled she was swinging and called it a strike. Santa Margarita ace Amy Letourneau walked Padilla to force in a run, then Kesterson came through with a two-run single to cut the lead to 12-8.
Dawna Tyson hit a slow roller down the first-base line. Letourneau picked it up, but her throw got dropped by the first baseman. A run scored on the play and Kesterson tried to take third, but second baseman Catie Monnahan, who was backing up on the play, gunned her down at third to end the game.
Everybody on Santa Margarita's lineup pitched in to help the Eagles (21-11) pound out 12 hits, but they had to withstand defeat Corona, 12-9, to take the championship.
The Panthers (22-11-1) were making their first appearance in the finals since 2004. Corona hasn't won a CIF-SS title since winning back-to-back championships from 1991-92.
It looked like Corona might get on the scoreboard first when Cheyanna Young hit a towering shot down the left-field line. The ball bounced off the top of the fence and back into fair play. Eagles left fielder Amanda Reiss crashed through the fence trying to make a play. Young had stopped running at first base, then took off for second. Reiss almost threw her out, but the Panthers ended up stranding her.
Corona ace Loie Kesterson was able to hold off the Santa Margarita hitters for the first three innings, but the Eagles broke through against the sophomore in the top of the fourth.
Jessie Daulton led off with a single and Northwestern-recruit Amy Letourneau knocked her in with a double over the right fielder. Loyola Marymount-bound Meghan Harman doubled to drive in Letourneau and Maddy Sykes added an RBI single to give the Eagles a 3-0 lead.
Santa Margarita had a four-run rally in the top of the sixth. Amanda Reiss led off the inning with a solo blast to left-center field. Cat Mann hit a fly ball to right field that got dropped, allowing another run to score. Reiss' younger sister, Danielle Reiss, added a two-run single to give Santa Margarita a 7-0 lead.
Corona loaded the bases in the bottom of the sixth and Jordan Learn delivered an RBI single to break up Letourneau's shutout bid.
The Eagles batted around in the top of the seventh and added five more runs to increase their lead to 12-1. Mann had an RBI single, Catie Monnahan had a sacrifice fly, and Jessie Daulton and Letourneau added RBI singles.
It was an amazing run by Santa Margarita, which beat Rio Mesa of Oxnard, 4-0, in 11 innings, fourth-seeded Simi Valley, 1-0, Marina, 6-5, in eight innings and top-seeded Valencia of Valencia, 2-1, to reach the finals.