(Bakersfield, CA) A six-run rally by the Mt. SAC Softball Team in the fifth inning, led the Mounties to the 2019 California Community College Athletic Association State Championship Tuesday afternoon (5/21) with a 7-4 victory over Palomar College at Bakersfield College.
With the win, the Mounties now have six CCCAA state titles since 2003 and have won back-to-back championships in the last two seasons. Mt. SAC is tied for second in the state with Palomar with six titles and Cypress has won nine.
Mt. SAC also finished with the best record in the state at 44-5.
Leading the way in the six-run inning was CCCAA State Tournament MVP Ciara Granado, with a three-run home run to give the Mounties a 4-1 lead.
Granado led the tournament with eight RBIs and batted .500 and was 2 for 2 with three RBIs in the title game.
First baseman Vicky Gutierrez followed with a solo home run for the 5-1 advantage. The Mounties would add two more runs in the inning for the 7-1 lead.
"It was big," said Granado of the home run. "Just to get the momentum going and that kind of got us started that inning."
Also, named as Most Valuable Pitcher for the second year in a row was Mt. SAC's Briana Wheeler. Wheeler, who will play at the University of Hawaii, Hilo next season, was a perfect 4-0 in the championship tournament, finished the season with a 28-1 record and was an amazing 54-6 in her two years at Mt. SAC.
Wheeler struck out 22 batters in 29 innings in the state championships and had a 1.6 ERA.
"Just that feeling of being complete and leaving it all on the field, I just feel good," said Wheeler of her 7-inning victory. "This is crazy. I think I'm still in shock." Wheeler started the championship game last season, but was relieved by eventual winner Jessica Olvera.
Receiving the Golden Glove Award in the state playoffs was freshman shortstop Quinn De Avila. Named to the All-Tournament team from the Mounties was Adriana Ramirez (catcher), Ally Longtree (centerfield) and Candace Haliburton (left field).
"We got off the bus and enjoyed the ride and the bus trip is over," said Mt. SAC coach Ruby Rojas of her season theme of "Get on the Energy Bus."
"This is what happens when you surround yourself with the right people. That's the important thing and they aren't just great athletes, they are great people and I love these girls."
Mt. SAC opened the scoring in the top of the first with a run, after centerfielder Candace Haliburton led off with a double to center. She eventually came around to score after bases were loaded and first baseman Vicky Gutierrez popped up a foul ball to the Palomar catcher. Haliburton hustled home for the scoring sacrifice fly to lead, 1-0.
Palomar scored a run in the second inning to tie it at 1-1.
The Mt. SAC offense finally came alive in the top of the fifth inning with the six-run rally for the 7-1 lead.
Palomar came back with two runs of its own on a two-run home run by State Tournament Top Hitter Sarah Fisher, to close within 7-3.
The Comets added another run in the sixth to come within three, 7-4. But Wheeler retired the final three Palomar batters in the seventh with a strikeout and two pop flies. And the celebration was on.
What the players said:
Gabby Estrada, Soph. 2B – "I had to work hard to get here. It's all worth it in the end when you get two rings. We've been playing well this whole tournament and this is the game that we really opened it up. I'm sad to see it end."
Vicky Gutierrez, Soph. 1B - "Having so much support around you when you feel like you're failing, I'm so thankful for my team for keeping me going and strong faith. It was such a relief (home run in championship game). With that at bat, I literally stepped into Ciara's (footsteps). Hitting like that is contagious. I'm really glad I went the JUCO route. It was such a blessing."
Zoe Brewer, Frosh P - "No matter what, me and Alexia (pitcher Silvas) were behind her (Wheeler) if needed and ready to go. This means the world and I can't describe the feeling. There's just too much emotion. I'm proud of everyone."
Ronni Gallegos, Soph. C - "Oh my goodness, it takes a whole team and a special group of girls that are all on the same page and dedicated and focused on one goal. This team has that. I'm so thankful and blessed to be part of a team like this."
Candace Haliburton, Soph. OF – "You can't really describe this, winning back-to-back championships. Once Ally (Longtree) got on, I just knew that was our inning and we were going to score more runs.
"I feel great."
Adriana Ramirez, Soph. C – "There were big shoes to fill from last year (Michelle Santiago). I really learned a lot this year and learned to read the hitters. It was great working with "B" (Wheeler)."
Quinn De Avila, Frosh SS – "I'm extremely grateful and blessed to be here with my team and this opportunity to play this game that I love. This game is all about momentum. I feel amazing."
Ciara Granado, Soph. 3B – "It's so exciting, it's history (back-to-back titles), and I'm just glad to be a part of that. To end my sophomore year as a state champion and especially back-to-back with two rings, it's amazing."
What the coaches said:
Asst. Coach "B" (Jim Bollier) – "Our whole playoff run was just one-run games and for them to put it all together was just magic.
"B" (Wheeler) is just incredible and to coach her the last couple of years has just been amazing. To watch her grow and work the mechanics with her pitches and make things work. In tight situations when you see her smiling in pressure situations, then you knew things were going to be ok. I feel great, absolutely amazing."
Asst. Coach PJ Leon – "It's amazing. Because playing in 2016 and now going on this journey with these girls is incredible. I get to see them grow as people and players. It's awesome to see the fight that they have every single game. They never roll over in defeat, even in a loss."
Asst. Coach Michelle Evans – "Everybody did their job and they have been literally working all year for this (championship). This was our goal, to get on the energy bus and stick together. That's what everybody did, including the coaches, and worked as hard as they possibly could. They always clutched up when it counted."
Asst. Coach Alex Mascarenas – "The big thing this year it was different players every day stepping up. This team got really close, especially at the end, and it was cool to see them celebrate together. Every game we were hitting a little better and what a game to break out than in the championship game against one of the best teams."
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For additional information, please contact the Mt. SAC Sports Information Office at 909.274.4630.