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Long Beach State Softball

Long Beach State Softball Sweeps Cal State Fullerton, Wins Big West Championship

The562’s coverage of Long Beach State athletics for the 2022-23 season is sponsored by Marilyn Bohl.

Who says lightning never strikes twice?

For the second time in the last three years, Long Beach State softball swept Cal State Fullerton on Saturday at the LBSU Softball Complex to steal the Big West Conference championship from their rivals.

“It’s the best feeling in the world,” LBSU pitcher Shannon Haddad said after tossing a complete game shutout in the winner-take-all season finale. “We earned this and we deserve it. I’m just really proud of us as a team.”

The Beach (31-21, 21-6) has now won eight of the last 12 games against the Titans (33-19, 20-7) and now prepare for the NCAA Regional coming up this week.

“What we just did is really hard to do, but I knew we could do it,” LBSU coach Kim Sowder said. “We’re in this position because we earned being here to play for the championship. All season we got better. To come in and beat a team as good as Fullerton… it’s a lot of emotion.”

Just like in 2021, LBSU came into the weekend knowing they needed to sweep Fullerton to take the title back. The Titans won the championship by beating LBSU last year, but the back-to-back shutouts by Sophia Fernandez and Haddad brought the trophy back to Long Beach.

“This team has come a long way as far as coming together as a team,” Sowder said. “We have a lot of new leadership and it took awhile. We did a lot of stuff like that where we write each other letters every week and they really got to know each other. A lot of it was the players’ ideas. And they trusted each other. That’s what’s made us successful because we haven’t had one superstar all year. Our lineup was different every single day for a while.”

A few players mentioned a meeting on Friday before the first game of the series that set the tone. The Beach gathered after a team stretch session, and they took turns talking about what they’re grateful for and give a positive affirmation for themselves.

“We put those positive vibes into the universe and we got our answers,” said LBSU right fielder Makayla Medellin, who had the game-winning RBI with a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning of the second game. “We took our time and took it one pitch at a time. That was really important for us. It’s really easy to make an error and fumble and that’s the game, but we stayed together and got it done. This feels amazing. It doesn’t feel real. Every part of me is just ecstatic right now.”

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CLICK HERE to read about the LBSU win on Friday night on national television that opened the door for the necessary sweep.

In the first game on Saturday, LBSU gave pitcher Sophia Fernandez a big early lead and the junior lefty took it from there with a complete game shutout in a 5-0 win. She only gave up three hits and a pair of walks while working quickly through the Titans lineup.

Fernandez and Haddad both said their raise balls were really working against a strong Fullerton lineup.

“It was taking it one pitch at a time, knowing that I can trust my stuff and trust my team behind me,” Fernandez said. “Once we got that lead I was able to just trust myself and my pitches more. Being able to watch (the Fullerton hitters on Friday night) helped a lot.”

The Titans only put a pair of runners in scoring position, and Fernandez used two fly balls to get out of a fourth inning jam with two runners on and one out. The junior also closed the game strongly and only needed five pitches in the fifth inning, and six pitches in the sixth.

“We knew we had the arms, and the defense was strong and defense wins championships,” Sowder said.

LBSU took its lead in the second inning as Lilyanna Martinez was hit by a pitch, stole second and then Cam Cecil legged out an infield single. Catcher Teah Theis was behind the in count 0-2 but went the other way for an RBI double down the left field line to plate Martinez.

Cecil would come in to score on Carly Robbins’ RBI sacrifice fly, and Theis would score on a Fullerton error to make it 3-0.

Cecil drove in Martinez with a two-out double in the third inning, and then LBSU used its speed to score again in the fifth. Jacquelyn Bickar led off with a walk, stole second and scored when Martinez’ legged out an infield single. Martinez would also steal second to tie her with Sowder for the program record for stolen bases in a season.

In the second game with the title on the line, Haddad and Fullerton ace Myka Sutherlin went toe to toe in a classic pitchers duel. There were only five combined hits until the sixth inning when Sara Olson led off with a legged out double to right field. She was sacrificed to third base by Bickar and scored on Medellin’s sacrifice fly.

“We’re just a clutch team,” Haddad said. “It’s in the culture that (coach Sowder) creates and that we create as a team. We’re all pulling for each other. Every single person.”

Haddad scattered three hits and didn’t walk a batter with only one strike out. Third baseman Carly Robbins made a few tough plays look easy to support Haddad. Fullerton stranded a runner on second in the sixth inning, and left the tying run at first base in the seventh.

“She said from day one that we’re going to win the conference,” Sowder said of Haddad. “She has that confidence. She went out there and was fearless and she pitched better this weekend than she has in the last three or four weeks. She dug in and really attacked.”

This is the 10th Big West championship in LBSU program history and the Beach will make its 26th appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The bracket will be announced Sunday at 4 p.m. on ESPN2

The562.org on Twitter: "FINALLBSU 1, CSUF 0Winner winner Big West Champs dinner! The Beach completes the sweep to take the conference title for the second time in the last three years. pic.twitter.com/KzIf1XB9zX / Twitter"

FINALLBSU 1, CSUF 0Winner winner Big West Champs dinner! The Beach completes the sweep to take the conference title for the second time in the last three years. pic.twitter.com/KzIf1XB9zX

PHOTOS: Long Beach State vs. Cal State Fullerton, NCAA Softball
JJ Fiddler
JJ Fiddler is an award-winning sportswriter and videographer who has been covering Southern California sports for multiple newspapers and websites since 2004. After attending Long Beach State and creating the first full sports page at the Union Weekly Newspaper, he has been exclusively covering Long Beach prep sports since 2007.