The562’s high school baseball and softball coverage for the 2022 season is sponsored by LBUSD Board of Education Member Megan Kerr.
It was starting to feel like a day of missed opportunities for St. Anthony after the Saints left seven runners on base through the first four innings of Thursday’s playoff against La Quinta. Then came the fifth inning, where the Saints used some small ball to fill the bases, and some big swings to clear them in a decisive five-run rally.
St. Anthony would hang on for a 6-2 win over La Quinta at Pan American Park, advancing to the CIF-SS Division 3 semifinals.
“It was great. We always preach that winners find a way to win,” said Saints head coach Joe Younger after the victory. “We understand we’re always going to be in every game, and it’s about getting that timely hit. Our 3-4-5 hitters, we asked them to get a bunt down, and they got the bunts down to put pressure on their defense, then we got the timely hit. I think that was our momentum, once the momentum got going, it’s like a train and our girls don’t stop.”
Younger said it was part of the game plan to put the ball in play and force the La Quinta defenders to make plays. The decisive fifth inning rally started with a single up the middle by senior starting pitcher Rose Cano, as six consecutive batters reached base for the Saints to open the inning.
Nata Leomiti followed with a bunt that turned into an infield single, then Miracle McKenzie’s attempted sac bunt loaded the bases when courtesy runner Tye Claybrook beat the throw to third base. Freshman Jane Quinn then smacked a two-run single to center to break a 1-1 tie and give St. Anthony a 3-1 lead. After another bunt single–this time by Kween Tavala–senior Samantha Dodge drove a two-run ground-rule double down the left field line to break the game open and put the Saints up 5-1.
“It was honestly a sigh of relief,” said Dodge of finally breaking through for a big inning. “Every time we came back into the dugout, we kept saying we’ve got to get on, and if there are runners on base we’ve got to hit and we’ve got to produce, and we did that right there. It was so cool.”
That was plenty of support for Cano in the circle, who allowed two runs on five hits while piling up nine strikeouts. The Blackhawks’ rallies were limited, as Cano set them down in order in four of the seven innings.
Many of her strikeouts came on her rise ball up in the zone, and Cano said that pitch was a big key to her success on Thursday.
“Definitely the rise,” Cano said. “It felt good in warm-ups and my catcher Aimee Metz was calling it a lot. So I was like ‘I'm gonna throw it’ and they kept swinging at it.”
The Saints opened the scoring in the bottom of the third inning thanks to a leadoff triple by Jayla Cadena. She would later score on a two-out throwing error to give St. Anthony the 1-0 lead.
La Quinta responded immediately in the top of the fourth as shortstop Aaliyah Penalber stroked a leadoff single and then swiped second base. She was later brought home on an RBI single by Kassidy Munoz to tie the game, 1-1.
Dodge led the way for the Saints offensively, reaching base safely in all three trips with a single, a double, a HBP, two RBIs and a run scored. Tavala was also 2/2 with a walk and Metz had two hits of her own with a single and an RBI triple.
St. Anthony will look to roll this momentum into the semifinals, where they’ll travel to face Tesoro. The game was originally scheduled for Saturday, but could be moved to early next week as both schools have prom scheduled this weekend.
Regardless of when the game is played, Younger is confident in how his team is playing as they look to take care of some unfinished business in these playoffs.
“We feel good about it,” Younger said. “This is something we started last year during COVID, and we didn't finish the way we wanted. We came into this year and our motto was to finish what we started, and we're not done. At the beginning of the season, everybody counted us out. We had a lot of injuries, we had our freshmen pitch a lot, so I think a lot of teams came in underestimating us.
“But when these girls are on, there's nobody that can play with us.”