The562’s high school baseball and softball coverage for the 2022 season is sponsored by LBUSD Board of Education Member Megan Kerr.
The St. Anthony softball team has had a mantra of “unfinished business” all season long. The Saints felt they’ve had a championship caliber program for three years running, but were unable to reach the mountaintop and hoist a championship plaque. Until now.
The Saints waited until the final inning of Saturday’s CIF State Division III SoCal Regional Championship Game before hitting the scoreboard, but Miracle McKenzie’s two-run single up the middle was all the offense St. Anthony needed to knock off Temple City and end their season with a victory.
“I’ve said all year long, we’re in it ‘til the last out,” said Saints head coach Joe Younger after the win. “This team always believes they’re in it. We knew we had a shot (to make the comeback) with the meat of our lineup coming up–Rose (Cano), Nata (Leomiti) and Miracle–those are our big hitters, that’s who’s been getting it done for us and they got it done today.”
Cano was once again terrific in the circle for the Saints, but she also started the crucial seventh-inning rally by drilling a leadoff single past the Temple City second baseman. Leomiti followed with a walk, advancing courtesy runner Angela Orozco to second base with no outs in the final frame as the Saints trailed, 1-0.
After a passed ball allowed both runners into scoring position, it set the stage for the heroics from McKenzie, a ninth grader with ice in her veins and lightning in her bat. She smacked a single back through the middle to score both runners, setting off an emotional celebration for the Saints, who exemplified a “never quit” attitude with the late rally.
“It felt fantastic,” said McKenzie of her game-winning hit. “Once the ball got through, I took my chance to go to second while they were throwing home, and it just felt really … It's indescribable. I’m just so proud, because I know how much work this team and myself have put in. We believed in each and every person on the fence, in the dugout, everywhere. And we just knew we were gonna get that win.”
The win was far from secured, however, as Temple City mounted a rally of its own in the bottom of the seventh. Cano started the inning with a strikeout, then allowed a bloop single to Mia Guerrero to put the potential tying run on base. After recording her seventh strikeout of the evening to bring the Saints one out from victory, the Rams put a big scare into everyone wearing purple with the first and only extra-base hit of the game.
Sheridan Gonzalez drilled a double into the right field corner, chasing Saints right fielder Destiny Avila all the way to the fence. Guerrero was running on contact, but Avila was able to get the ball in quickly enough to keep her at third base and prevent her from tying the game. The next batter would fly out to center field, leaving the potential winning run at second base and kicking off a celebration in the middle of the diamond for St. Anthony.
The complete game victory capped off quite a day for the senior Cano, who actually graduated on Saturday morning before the game.
“It feels absolutely amazing,” Cano said with a smile. “I don’t even have words right now, honestly. Well, now that I'm an alumni, I also have a state title, and we just left our legacy at the school, that's pretty great. It’s the best feeling. I just ended my high school career with a state title, I’m going to college with this momentum, and it’s just great for me and my team.”
Cano was also dealing with a back injury that’s been bothering her for the past few weeks, but gritted it out to come through for her team. The George Washington signee has been the lifeblood of the program for the past two seasons, and she refused to give up even as the pain was clearly impacting her on the field.
“I was talking to my catcher, Aimee Metz, and I told her I didn’t know if I could last the entire game,” Cano admitted. “But then I was like, ‘Okay, it’s only three more innings, I can do this.’ It was for my team. I couldn’t give up on them and stop pitching. I had to keep going and just not think about it.”
Cano went the distance allowing five hits and one unearned run. She walked three and struck out seven.
The Rams scored the go-ahead run in the third inning after a leadoff single from Guerrero. She was then advanced to second base on a sacrifice bunt but a throw to second by St. Anthony sailed into the outfield and allowed Guerrero to run all the way home for a 1-0 Temple City lead.
Cano shut their offense down from there, but did have to work around a bases-loaded jam in the fourth. The senior recorded back-to-back strikeouts to leave the bases full, and stranded a total of seven Rams on the day.
McKenzie led the Saints offense with a pair of hits and the two huge RBIs. Samantha Dodge also had a base hit and reached on an error in the sixth.
The Saints were the No. 4 seed in the Division III bracket, but certainly earned their title, going on the road in consecutive games to knock off the top two seeds in the bracket. The win makes program history for St. Anthony as this group of Saints is the first to ever claim a SoCal Regional championship.
“We were the underdogs all season long,” Younger said. “Nobody thought we were gonna have the run that we had, especially with the start that we had (to the season). But we were comfortable in that position, we were comfortable going in as the four seed.
“We liked being underdogs. I'll take that all day long.”