Despite a fearless effort from sophomore second baseman Justine Zavala and freshman outfielder Yecenia Cardenas, the Lancers softball team was unable to keep their playoff hopes alive after losing 5-2 to El Camino College-Compton Center Tuesday afternoon at Robinson Park.
Although the Lancers already improved their win total by eight, finishing 21-17 overall and 9-12 in the South Coast Conference, Tuesday’s heartbreaking defeat eliminated any hopes the Lancers had of claiming an at-large playoff bid in Monica Tantlinger’s second season as head coach.
“Obviously the feeling I have right now is defeated, but overall this was a good season for PCC,” Tantlinger said. “We broke a lot of records, we broke the homerun record, we broke the RBI record and we had the best start since 2006. There were some really good things that we did and this season was a step in the right direction.”
After falling behind 2-0 in the second inning, the Lancers scored their first points in the bottom of the second inning thanks to the stealing prowess of Cardenas, whose 34 stolen bases on the season ranked third in the state. After a single to left field to get on base, Cardenas would go on to steal second, third and home to cut Compton’s lead 2-1.
The Lancers displayed a much more focused defensive effort in the top of the third inning, allowing freshman pitcher Brianna Lopez to control the tempo with her fast-pitch and record three straight outs.
“Honestly, I was thinking about just pitching,” Lopez said after falling behind early. “I know I have a good defense behind me, I just let them hit the ball and let my teammates get the outs. It was fine, I knew it was nine against nine and not one against nine so I was confident.”
In the bottom of the third inning the Lancers tied the score at 2-2 with a record-tying homerun by Zavala. Zavala tied freshman catcher Holly Riker-Sloan’s PCC single-season record for the most homeruns, 10, with her long-ball over the centerfield gate. She finished her Lancers career batting 2-for-3 against Compton with one RBI.
“I just kept telling the team that it was really up to them,” Tantlinger said. “I felt Compton was giving us some opportunities and if we would cash in we would get the result we wanted. The thing is we fought to the very end. We didn’t get the result we wanted but we fought ‘til the end.”
“Coach Tantlinger is the most inspirational person I know,” freshman first baseman Derek “Mudder” Blow said. “She does her best to keep us going, she never gets down, and even when we get down she’s always inspirational and very motivating.”
The Lancers finished in a three-way tie for fourth place in the SCC with Compton and East Los Angeles. All three teams had 9-12 conference records.
“I think we’ve grown tremendously, we’re a completely different team,” Brown said. “At the beginning of the season we hoped to do better in league because we kind of started rocky, but we finished really strong after hitting a few bumps.”
After Compton used home runs by Jessica Arias and Viviana Rivera to take a three-run lead, PCC mounted a last-inning rally. Singles by shortstop Anais Sustayta and right fielder Mariah Quintana sandwiched a walk to Zavala and with the team down to its final out, up stepped Riker-Sloan. The freshman catcher just missed tying the game as her line-drive to left field went foul by just a few inches. On the ensuing pitch, Compton pitcher Brooke Loard got Riker-Sloan to pop up to first base to end PCC’s season.
“You really can’t ask for more than being given an opportunity to have a big hitter like Holly up and runners on base,” Tantlinger said. “It just wasn’t meant to be. We had an outside chance at making the playoffs had we won. Still, we finished in a tie for fourth place and that’s another improvement going forward for the program.”
The Lancers set a team record for home runs in a season with 27—20 by the duo of Zavala and Riker-Sloan—who beat the previous best PCC single-season mark by three homers each. PCC batted .336 as a team in 38 games and also recorded 17 triples on the season. Zavala was the team’s batting leader with a .409 average and she led the team in runs scored (41) and hits (52). Riker-Sloan, who batted .400 overall, led the squad in RBI with 42 while Zavala had 37.