Destiny Arrives As Softball Captures 2018 State Championship At Home

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A year-long journey for redemption culminated on Sunday, May 20, when Mt. SAC Softball returned to the California Community College Athletic Association State Championship Final, defeating the Palomar College Comets with a 5-4 win at home for the program’s fifth state title.

The Mounties began their 2018 campaign with a mission in the aftermath of being runner-ups in the 2017 State Championship Game.

After amassing a 40-7 record overall, including an undefeated run in the tournament with wins over Ohlone, El Camino, and Palomar College, the team earned an opportunity of a lifetime to win it all at home.

Palomar was on a mission of their own, reaching the final after shifting to the losers bracket following their loss to the Mounties in the winners bracket semi-final.

There, they knocked the crown off the defending champions, Cypress College, and robbed the Mounties of an opportunity to avenge their 2017 loss in the championship game.

Mt. SAC’s Candance Haliburton and Carissa Felix at home on Sunday, May 20. Photo Credit: Mychal Corbin @shotstotheheart

With the CCCAA State Championship on the line, the Comets wasted no time in challenging Briana Wheeler on the mound, as Sarah Fisher hit a solo home run with one out in the top of the first to give Palomar the early lead.

The Mounties wouldn’t answer back until the bottom of the second, which saw Michelle Santiago get walked and reach second on Candace Haliburton‘s at-bat. Sasha Allen pinch ran for Santiago and moved to third on a wild pitch, setting her up to reach home off a single by Amanda Esquivel to tie things up, 1-1.

Mt. SAC took the lead in the bottom of the third after Santiago flied out to left field, bringing Caitlyn Felina in to score, while Wheeler kept the Comets from producing any more runs through the fourth.

Down 2-1 in the fifth with one out and runners on first and second, Alicia Garcia stunned the Mt. SAC home crowd after smashing a three-run homer to give Palomar the lead, proving no lead was safe in this championship game.

As the Comets celebrated and chanted away in their dugout with a 4-2 lead, Jessica Olvera came on the mound in the sixth and forced Palomar to leave runners on base heading into the bottom of the inning.

Mt. SAC’s Ciara Granado and Amanda Esquivel versus Palomar College at home on Sunday, May 20. Photo Credit: Mychal Corbin @shotstotheheart

The Mounties were determined to not leave it up to a seventh inning for a last chance at a comeback and went gunning for it in the bottom of the sixth with Santiago singling to centerfield.

Haliburton’s own single advanced Santiago to second before moving to scoring position on a passed ball.

With no outs and two runners on base, Vicky Gutierrez launched a three-run shot over the left field wall to take the lead.

“The whole game I was 0-2. I was just trying to make contact but the whole team was telling me, ‘Vicky, you’re going to get a hit, you’re going to get a hit,'” Gutierrez said on her crucial third at-bat of the game. “It’s such a great feeling, it’s honestly an indescribable feeling.”

After a forced pitching change, the Comets got the final out of the inning, sending the game into the seventh with Olvera and the Mounties three outs away from their 41st win of the year and the season’s most coveted prize.

Olvera struck out the first batter up, while Fisher grounded out to shortstop. With two outs, Garcia — the same batter that stunned the Mt. SAC crowd in the fifth — set off the celebrations as she grounded toward Olvera, who threw to first for the final out to clinch the 2018 CCCAA Softball State Championship.

“I didn’t think I had it. I put my glove out there and I got it. I thought, ‘ok, I have to make a good throw.’ That was the most important throw of my life,” Olvera said on the last play of the game. “We were down, but I trust our bats. We got the lead and it was all about finishing it.”

The Mounties also received individual honors, as Santiago was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, while Wheeler was named the Most Valuable Pitcher.

Mt. SAC Softball celebrate the 2018 CCCAA State Championship win against Palomar College at home on Sunday, May 20. Photo Credit: Mychal Corbin @shotstotheheart

Head coach Rubilena Rojas earned her first state title as manager of the program while Mt. SAC won its fifth after previously winning in 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2009.

“It’s amazing all of our state titles end on an odd number. Well, we brought it to an even number,” Rojas said. “Ready to do this again next year. We don’t settle for anything less.”