In 2018, Mary Star High softball captured their first Camino Real League championship in three years, but the Stars felt unsatisfied considering they were unable to go through the entire league slate undefeated. Only one loss in the twelve league contest. With Jesse Espinoza back in tow as the head coach, the Stars came into 2019 more confident and more determined than ever to make sure their league title aspirations were absolutely perfect.
Thanks to a solid hitting attack with six Stars pounding out two or more hits, and a sound defensive effort to back up another shutout in the circle from junior pitcher Alessandra Samperio, Mary Star capped off an unbeaten Camino Real League title run with a 9-0 victory at Bishop Montgomery of Torrance in the regular season finale on Wednesday.
By virtue of this latest victory, Mary Star (19-4 overall, 12-0 league) finished the 2019 regular season with 15 consecutive wins, not having lost since a 3-1 defeat at Palos Verdes on March 5.
"This was a complete team effort," Mary Star junior catcher Sofia Amalfitano said. "We are really clicking offensively and defensively and have grown as a team. We have also bonded off the field which I believe has contributed to our success this season."
Offense definitely clicked in the top of the first inning as the Stars bewildered the Knights (8-8, 6-6) sending ten batters to the plate and pounding out six consecutive hits en route to a 5-0 lead.
All it took for the onslaught to begin was a hard shot by freshman second baseman Anissa Vital off the glove of third base, triggering an error as Vital still beat the throw to first base. Junior shortstop Ashley Rico struck the first blow with a towering double to right-center field, putting Vital on third to set up the eventual scoring barrage that would then begin with an RBI-single from Samperio. On a double steal, Rico stole home plate, and junior courtesy runner Sky Marquez would end up at third after stealing second.
A single by Sofia Amalfitano would put runners on the corners, and then sophomore center fielder Lexi Buscemi would drill a three-run home run over the center fielder's head for the 5-0 Mary Star cushion. Junior third baseman Julia Magrini doubled, then was moved over to third on a single by sophomore left fielder Jasmin Mayorga. Neither would score but the damage was done.
The approach to the plate was pretty straight-forward according to Rico.
"We were just waiting for out pitches, not swinging at junk and was making hard contact," said Rico, the San Jose State verbal commit who finished 3-for-5 with two doubles and two runs scored. "Once one person got a hit, it was contagious for our whole team."
Jumping out to the early lead was more than enough for Samperio, and it definitely helped the entire team to settle down remembering how close the Stars had it in a 7-5 win the last time they visited Bishop Montgomery in the first half of league play.
"It's always beneficial to jump ahead on teams like we did today because it allows us to play more comfortably and relaxed," Sofia Amalfitano said.
Samperio scattered five hits and still managed to strike out eight without allowing a walk or hit batter, but was aided by solid defensive plays from the likes of Vital, Rico, junior right fielder Sarah Leyba and Marquez off the bench making a crucial running catch in foul territory in the top of the sixth inning.
Mary Star would score twice in the second inning off an RBI-single from Sofia Amalfitano and a RBI-sacrifice fly from Buscemi, then score their last two runs in the fourth on a full count, two-out, two-RBI single with the bases loaded from senior first baseman Rose Amalfitano, who praised her entire team's defensive mentality and togetherness.
"Defense wins games," Rose Amalfitano said to remind everyone that the old cliche still holds true. "Without (her sister) Sofia behind the dish, Ale in the circle and the strong infield and outfield behind her, our team would not be as successful as we have been this year. Our outfield does a tremendous job, and our infield comes up clutch in tough situations."
Case in point, the bottom of the sixth inning.
With two runners in scoring position with two out, and Bishop Montgomery threatening to score, Vital somehow maintained her focus after bobbling a hot shot, then fired a strong throw to Rose Amalfitano at first base, barely beating the runner, to take away a run and end the sixth inning.
Samperio retired the Knights in order in the bottom of the seventh by striking out one, then getting the last two Knights batters to pop out to Vital, effectively sealing the victory and the perfect league championship.
By the time the game was over, Mary Star finished with 16 hits in all, paced by both Samperio and Rico going 3-for-5 at the plate. Rose Amalfitano finished 3-for-4 with 2 RBI, Mayorga finished 2-for-4, and so did Sofia Amalfitano who added an RBI. Buscemi finished 2-for-3 with a home run and 4 RBI in all.
Even though the Stars have completed one goal, the bigger one still lies ahead as the CIF-Southern Section Division 4 playoff pairings will not be announced until April 26. Last year, the Stars made a surprising run to the CIF-SS Division 6 championship game, and knows the road to reaching another final will be even more difficult. On this day though, Mary Star will revel in the fact they were able to defend their league title.
"Winning back-to-back league championships is a really good feeling," Rico said. "We make a name for Mary Star every time we do something big."