Bases loaded. Two outs. A one-run game with the championship on the line.
It’s the situation every kid dreams of when practicing alone in the backyard, and it’s the predicament Long Beach State pitcher Kellie White found herself in on Saturday at the LBSU Softball Complex.
The Beach needed one out to complete the sweep of visiting Cal State Fullerton and claim the Big West Conference championship. When the Titans loaded the bases and timeout was called, White had one thought going through her head.
“This is our game, no matter what,” White said. “I just needed to make the pitches and my defense was going to make the play or I’m going to get the strikeout. No matter what we’re going to come out on top. We slowed our breathing down and it was the moment we’ve been waiting for and practiced for, so there was no doubt we were going to win.”
White got a quick strike on Fullerton designated hitter Alyssa Hernandez, and then induced a weak ground ball up the middle. LBSU shortstop Cam Cecil scooped it and went to second for the final out that clinched the 1-0 victory and the conference title.
LBSU (30-9, 22-2) swept the Friday doubleheader with CSUF to force the winner-take-all game on Saturday. The Titans (38-15, 21-3) came into the weekend undefeated in conference play.
“It’s an incredible feeling and definitely one of the biggest accomplishments at this field,” LBSU coach Kim Sowder said. “This was a tough battle but we’ve been in games where we had to battle back and we knew we had to win every game to achieve our goal and win conference. We put that pressure on ourselves every week and I think that helped us.”
This is the ninth Big West title for LBSU, and its first since 2014. CSUF was trying to win a fifth consecutive conference championship.
“Their reign is over and it’s time for us to claim the prize,” White said.
White pitched two complete games on Friday, and came back to pitch another complete game gem on Saturday while scattering four hits and one walk. She only faced six batters over the minimum and 75 of her 109 pitches were strikes. In the three games combined, White gave up only 11 hits in 21 innings while 213 of her 334 total pitches were strikes. That’s over 63 percent strikes, and the senior righty struck out 22 batters on the weekend.
“She was on her stuff,” Sowder said of White. “She gave us so many 1-2-3 innings and she pitched her heart out. She lead the way and made it happen.”
White stranded runners in scoring position in the fifth and seventh innings while only allowing one hit in each of those frames.
“They made adjustments on me by moving up on the plate to try and catch my stuff but I just stuck to my game plan of what I did games one, two and three,” White said of her approach to keep the ball up and away from the quality Fullerton lineup.
In the top of the seventh inning, a one-out single to center field and a fielder’s choice at second base put a Titans runner on first base with two outs. Fullerton second baseman KK Humphreys worked the count full before lacing a single into right center field, but a good relay throw from Sara Olson and Emily Salazar kept the possible tying run at third on the play.
Fullerton loaded the bases on a controversial hit by pitch when it looked like shortstop Peyton Toto had swung on the inside screwball. However, that didn’t stop White from going back to that pitch, and it got Hernandez off balance enough to ground out and end the game.
The562.org on Twitter: “Winner Winner Big West Champs dinner for @LBSUSoftball! Kellie White finishes her third complete game of the weekend by leaving the bases loaded in a 1-0 win over Fullerton. @LBSUAthletics @BigWestSports pic.twitter.com/MJ60y3zDIw / Twitter”
Winner Winner Big West Champs dinner for @LBSUSoftball! Kellie White finishes her third complete game of the weekend by leaving the bases loaded in a 1-0 win over Fullerton. @LBSUAthletics @BigWestSports pic.twitter.com/MJ60y3zDIw
“I’m not surprised but I’m super proud,” Sowder said. “That’s the hardest thing to do is play against an undefeated team and sweep them. We took it one at a time, got some momentum, they believed in each other and they wanted it. They just showed up and performed.”
LBSU took the lead off Fullerton ace Sophie Frost in the fifth inning on a bases loaded walk. Left fielder Rylie Seip sparked the two-out rally with a single through the left side, and after first baseman Alyssa Gonzalez was hit by a pitch, Suzy Brookshire’s seeing eye pop up landed just out of the reach Frost to load the bases. Senior Breezy Wise drew the game-winning walk. Brookshire was the only player in the game with two hits.
The562.org on Twitter: “A 2-out rally and a bases loaded walk has @LBSUSoftball up 1-0 on Fullerton in the 5th inn and has the Beach fans dancing! pic.twitter.com/yEzfbqdnAf / Twitter”
A 2-out rally and a bases loaded walk has @LBSUSoftball up 1-0 on Fullerton in the 5th inn and has the Beach fans dancing! pic.twitter.com/yEzfbqdnAf
“The seniors led the way this year both with their play and off the field,” Sowder said. “They’re just all special people. I’m super happy for them. They deserved to win, whether they did or not.”
The limited crowd at the LBSU Softball Complex was still able to make some noise and get behind the Beach thanks in large part to a group of alumni led by Nichole Fry and others.
“They’re incredible and kept the crowd going,” White said of her former teammates. “The crowd was amazing for us today. It was definitely home field advantage.”
Both Sowder and White said that their tumultuous season that included a late start and a two-week hiatus due to COVID-19 tests made the Beach a better team.
“We were the underdogs the entire time,” White said. “We didn’t get a preseason and didn’t get to start our season until February 15. We weren’t picked to come in first, so this is to prove everyone wrong. We worked hard for this. There was no doubt in my mind the entire season that we were going to win this.”
“It took doing the right thing all season,” Sowder added. “It took losing some tough games and learning how to bounce back really quickly. This team is here 30 minutes early (to practice) every single day. They beat me a lot of the time.”
Sowder was visibly emotional after sharing postgame hugs, and said she’ll remember this season for more than just a sweep over their rivals.
“It’s the girls and their excitement to be back out on the field after the pandemic,” Sowder said. “It’s watching them build friendships, and watching them grow, seeing how they mature emotionally to become leaders… It’s special and it’s all about relationships. Seeing a group of people accomplish what they set out to do.”
The Big West championship earns the Beach its eighth NCAA Tournament berth in the last 13 seasons. LBSU last played in the postseason in 2018. The NCAA Selection Show is on Sunday, and experts agree that the Beach will likely be sent to the UCLA Regional.