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Dramatic revenge win nets White Tigers a softball title


 


It took extra innings to do so but the second-seeded Escondido Charter softball team got some sweet payback Saturday against a Tri-City Christian squad that had dealt the White Tigers a playoff defeat just two days before.
In the game that meant the most, EC (23-4) prevailed and as a result, coach Jeff Johnson’s determined squad secured a 4-3 win over the Eagles (18-5) in the San Diego Section Division IV championship game that was held on the campus of UCSD.
Charter’s winning run came in the last of the ninth and was set up by a bunt single from speedy Jade Loper, another bunt hit from Jaylin Alvarado and a fielder’s choice that moved the runners up a base.
Then with one out and the Eagle infield drawn in, senior captain Julia Shepherd ripped a hot shot that Tri-City’s shortstop bobbled and couldn’t handle. Moments later, Loper crossed the plate with the decisive score that brought the White Tigers a title and forever etched their names in the annals of EC athletics.
Though Johnson had some uneasy moments during this taut contest, he relished the final outcome. “It was really nerveracking,” the coach admitted, “but what a great walk-off win. We got ahead early but they came back because they’re a very good team.”
Charter got off to a quick start in this seminal game when it scored thrice in the first frame courtesy of sophomore Gionna Mehrtens’s RBI single and a two-run double off the bat of postseason standout Loper.
However, Tri-City (a four-seed) countered with a three-spot of its own in the top of the fourth—thanks primarily to Olivia Hernandez’s inside-the-park homer that delivered a pair of runs.
With the game thus tied at three apiece, that’s the way things stood until EC finally broke through in the fateful final frame to secure the program’s most telling victory ever.
In a yeoman-like performance in which she yielded just five hits while fanning seven, senior pitcher Hailey Alspach showcased stamina, grit and resolve on her way to a signature and historic victory. “Hailey was fantastic,” praised Johnson. “Her changeup was the best I’ve seen it all year.”
As for the EC offense, it was productive enough with Mehrtens, Loper and the senior Alvarado pacing the attack with each producing a pair of hits that included a two-bagger.
Not to be overlooked was Charter’s tight play in the field, as its defense handled 27 putouts and authored 11 assists with nary an error.
Unquestionably, this was an all-around team performance that will long be remembered.
To briefly review, Charter’s postseason journey to the title game began with early-round wins over Palo Verde Valley (5-1) and Sage Creek (13-3).
It was then onto the semifinals where the White Tigers’ terrific 11-game winning streak snapped, the result of a 7-3 setback to Tri-City. Other than a ringing three-run triple by Loper, Charter’s bats were basically quiet and a leaky defense was costly as only one of the runs scored by the Eagles was earned.
In the wake of such a disappointing defeat and required to play a second game almost immediately thereafter, the White Tigers were forced to confront their very survival. Another loss and their charmed season would conclude on a most unsatisfying note. Moreover, their opponent in this do-or-die contest was the No. 1 seed, the San Dieguito Academy Mustangs.
But with so much at stake, the White Tigers delivered like winners should. Buoyed by the superb effort of the remarkable Alspach – who allowed but four hits and a lone unearned run while striking out six – Charter was in control throughout a 7-1 triumph.
After taking a 3-0 lead after two innings, EC was never really challenged and simply added insurance runs in the fourth and seventh frames to convincingly sew things up.
While Alspach certainly did her part, ditto her teammates. Shortstop Shepherd enjoyed a productive afternoon as she doubled and drove home three runs. Team captain and mainstay Lacey Bainbridge was also a bona fide contributor with a couple of knocks that included a two-bagger while scoring twice.
Meanwhile, Mehrtens rapped out three singles and scored while Alvarado had a hit and tallied two times. Talented freshman Marianna Bedolla got into the act as well with a hit and a ribbie.
By taking down the Mustangs, the clutch White Tigers had extended their season and given themselves a chance at capturing the consummate prize.
To their everlasting credit, less than 48 hours later in their revenge tussle with Tri-City, that’s exactly what they did.
Needless to say, it’s been a season to remember in so many impressive ways.
While marching towards a spectacular 23-4 overall ledger, EC has outscored the opposition by a whopping 250 to 66 count. Moreover, the team is riding ever so high, having won 13 of its last 14 contests. The White Tigers’ undefeated record (8-0) in the Coastal League is yet another compelling reason why this campaign had been so darn special.
To date, Charter has simply had too much going for it to be denied.
Led by the committed staff of Johnson and his valuable lieutenants Dan Land and Shane Connolly, the White Tigers have been the beneficiaries of splendid coaching. That includes the influence of Alex Hernandez, the skipper who proceeded Johnson and was instrumental in helping to create the positive culture that surrounds the team today,
And then there’s been the tremendous senior leadership of this group, headed up by dandies like Alspach, Bainbridge and Shepherd along with other admirable examples such as Alvarado and Hannah Alspach. “Our seniors have done such a great job setting the tone and holding everyone accountable,” said Johnson.
Plus, there have been a number of gifted complementary performers up and down the lineup who have made a significant impact.
Combine all that with a palpable team chemistry, an abundance of heart and consistent execution, and it’s no wonder the White Tigers have thrived.
And so deservedly, Charter’s season goes on. By virtue of having garnered a cherished SD Section title, EC qualified for the CIF SoCal Softball Championships as a six-seed and will take to the road for a first-round Division IV matchup with host Hilltop (18-14) of Riverside. Should the White Tigers stay alive with a victory in that testing encounter, then they’ll advance to Thursday’s semifinals where No. 2 seed Orange Cove will most likely await them.
But regardless of how things shake out this week, these White Tigers have made an indelible mark on both their school as well as their sport. They can take immense pride in having left behind a storied legacy that will always be revered by those who lived it.

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