San Pedro High Softball: "The 2000 Decade Of Dominace"

With high school sports still on hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19), I've decided to take a special look back at the greatest dynasty to ever happen for prep sports in San Pedro, California.

San Pedro High softball already established itself as a premier program with seven CIF-Los Angeles City Section championships and slowly building up to winning more with four titles in the 1990's (1992, 1993, 1995, 1998) under coach Tony Dobra, but no one could even fathom how the 21st century would begin for the Pirates, as they would capture an unprecedented nine CIF-LACS Division 1 championships in ten seasons from 2000 through 2009. 

Four players (Wynter Turner, Perelini Koria, Kailee Cuico & Koral Costa) during this era of greatness went on to play in the NCAA Women's College World Series, and one more (Ashley Esparza), along with Dobra himself, would later be enshrined in the San Pedro Sportswalk Of Fame.

Here is a special, short look at all ten seasons.

2000 Season (22-5-1 Record) - In what was the first year of the newly realigned Marine League, San Pedro would capture the league title with a 9-1 record, then ran the San Fernando Valley gauntlet as the No.2 seed of the CIF-LACS Division 1 playoffs in eliminating Granada Hills, Sylmar and Kennedy of Granada Hills to reach the final against league rival Carson... and what a final it was.

For two days, two sites (UCLA & South Gate Park) and an exhausting 20 innings, eventual CIF-LACS Player Of The Year Natalie Tam pitched a gutsy eight-hit shutout with ten strikeouts, as a ground ball hit by Wynter Turner with the bases loaded and two outs, led to a fielding error at third base, allowing Marissa Gonzalez to score the championship run for the 1-0 San Pedro victory.

2001 Season (27-3 Record) - The Pirates once again captured the Marine League title, splitting with Carson, before taking out Taft of Woodland Hills and Banning of Wilmington in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Their CIF-LACS Division 1 semifinal showdown with El Camino Real had the Pirates down to their final out in the bottom of the eighth inning, but a dramatic double from Jessica Robles drove home Turner and fabulous freshman Ashley Esparza for the 3-2 walk-off victory.

San Pedro would then defeat Carson 3-0 in a highly anticipated rematch at UCLA for their second straight CIF championship behind Tam's two-hit shutout with four strikeouts. The big blow was an RBI-double in the sixth inning from Nicole Castagnola to seal the deal. Tam and Turner, who later on went to star at Texas (played in the 2005 NCAA WCWS), shared CIF-LACS Player Of The Year honors, and Turner was also the Marine League Co-MVP.

One final crowning moment for this team came in 2017, the same year the Pirates won their 17th CIF title, when the 2001 Pirates were inducted into the San Pedro High School Athletic Hall Of Fame (Turner & Tam in the photo).

2002 Season (26-2 Record) - In a season that also missed a couple of games due to the Laidlaw bus driver's strike during league play, the Pirates still managed to win a third straight Marine League title winning all eight games, including back-to-back 3-2 extra-inning victories over Carson, whom the Pirates later defeated yet again with the CIF-LACS Division 1 title on the line at UCLA, this time by a 1-0 count.

In the championship game, Esparza literally won it with her arms (two- hit shutout with strikeouts, leadoff double in the top of the sixth inning), and her legs (scoring the only run in the sixth inning off a wild pitch), en route to being named the CIF-LACS & Marine League Player Of The Year, something Pirate fans would grow accustomed to.

2003 Season (30-1 Record) - This was the closest San Pedro would come to perfection in softball since the 1979 team finished a perfect 31-0 and becoming the vaunted program's third CIF champion.

Only a 3-0 loss to Carson in their final Marine League meeting, the first time the Pirates' were defeated on their current on-campus home field, stopped a potential undefeated season. However, San Pedro won the most important battles with the Colts: a 3-1, eight-inning clash at Carson High in the league opener, a 2-1 victory in the Downey Tournament championship, and again, 1-0 in nine innings at UCLA for San Pedro's fourth straight CIF-LACS crown.

Once again, Esparza was the main catalyst in the title tilt, hurling another two-hit shutout with seven strikeouts, and walked off the Colts in the bottom of the ninth with a scorching double down the right field line to plate Castagnola. For the second straight year, Esparza took home both the CIF-LACS and Marine League MVP honors, and her battery mate, catcher Stephanie Spychaj would leave as a four-time champion.

This was the only team under Dobra that won both the Downey and El Segundo Tournaments in the same season as well.

2004 Season (29-3 Record) - For the first time ever in CIF-LACS history, the playoffs would be a 32-team bracket, so it was only fitting for the Pirates to win five games to become the first and only program in Section history to win five straight CIF-LACS titles.

It was not easy by any means.

In the first round, Esparza (pictured at the 2015 SPHS Athletic Hall Of Fame) threw a perfect game by striking out 17 of 21 batters faced in a 3-0 victory over Palisades, then a pair of RBI-singles by Katelyn Oro and Andrea Fuentes in the bottom of the sixth propelled San Pedro to a 2-0 second round victory over Crenshaw. San Pedro then survived a quarterfinal scare in a 2-1 victory over Granada Hills thanks to a third-inning sacrifice fly from Nicole Serrato, and a walk-off RBI-single in the bottom of the tenth from Jackie Conlin ended a pitcher's duel with Esparza and Megan Miller as San Pedro won 1-0 over El Camino Real.

Finally, Serrato was the hero once again in the championship, hitting a seeing-eye-flare that landed eight inches fair on the left field line for a double, and that was all San Pedro needed to once again outlast Carson, 2-0 to cap off their 'Drive For Five' quest.

Esparza hurled a one-hit shutout with nine strikeouts in her final game as a Pirate before heading over to Penn State as a four-time CIF champion and three-time CIF-LACS & Marine League Player Of The Year.

2005 Season (29-3 Record) - It was a team worthy of becoming six-time champions... the first in the decade to go 10-0 in the Marine League, with 26 of those 29 wins coming by way of shutout, and only one team stood in their way... 

In a battle for the overall lead of CIF-LACS championships won in softball, it was El Camino Real and their star pitcher Megan Miller that took home the 2-0, eight-inning victory for their 13th title, leaving the Pirates stuck at 12 and ending their five-year reign at UCLA.

2005 also marked the amazing prep careers of the newest dominant battery of pitcher Taylor Petty, and catcher Perelini Koria, who more than made up for the devastating loss in years to come. Dobra would also win his 500th career game as coach with a 9-0 victory over Narbonne of Harbor City on April 22.

2006 Season (30-2 Record) - It was truly a year of Petty-powered retribution.

After the disheartening defeat that ended her freshman season, Petty would deliver mind-blowing numbers in the circle as she went 21-2 with a school-record 291 strikeouts, 16 of which in a semifinal no-hitter to eliminate defending champion El Camino Real in a game where she battled shin splints during the game, and a short dizziness spell at the start of the bottom of the fourth inning. A leadoff solo home run from Holly Stevens ignited a four-run top of the sixth inning to stymie the Conquistadors.

13 days later, Petty woke up the morning of the CIF-LACS Division 1 final against Banning at UCLA with a 102-degree fever, but somehow only allowed an innocent infield single in a dominant one-hit shutout with 13 strikeouts to lead the Pirates to a 5-0 victory for their 13th CIF championship and sixth crown in seven years. Oro went a perfect 4-for-4 at the plate with 2 RBIs in the victory. San Pedro shared the league title with Banning and won the El Segundo Tournament. This team was also untouchable in the playoffs, winning all five games by a combined 53-0 margin.

Petty was named CIF-LACS & Marine League Pitcher Of The Year and Cal-Hi Sports Sophomore Of The Year.

The 2006 season was also highlighted by Stevens belting a leadoff, walk-off home run to defeat Carson, 3-2 in a two-day, 15- inning marathon at San Pedro High.

2007 Season (30-2 Record) - Arguably this was Dobra's best team (the 2003 team also has a say in this argument) as only losses to CIF-Southern Section powers Pacifica of Garden Grove and Kennedy of La Palma were the only setbacks, even though there's no shame in losing to programs of their caliber.

Petty had another sensational year in the circle, but this 2007 team was built by the long ball, clubbing a school record 40 home runs for the season. 17 of those round-trippers came courtesy of Koria, who also drove in 65 RBIs in becoming the CIF-LACS & Marine League Player Of The Year, along with being named the Cal-Hi Sports Junior Of The Year to boot.

San Pedro won all ten league games by a whopping 248-0, only twice scoring less than ten runs (both wins over Banning were 9-0), and steamrolled to another El Segundo Tournament title before making it back to the CIF-LACS Division 1 finals against Kennedy, who fought valiantly before losing 1-0 on a RBI-single with two outs in the bottom of the second inning from Vanessa Samudio. 

Petty was again named CIF-LACS & Marine League Pitcher Of The Year, and the Pirates had seven total All-City selections, including the high school debut of future Oregon Duck, Kailee Cuico.

2008 Season (29-3 Record) - It was the going-out party for Petty, Koria and Korin Cuico as they would come full circle in graduating from San Pedro High as three-time CIF-LACS champions after it bested El Camino Real, 3-1 at UCLA.

Petty (pictured at the 2018 SPHS Athletic Hall Of Fame) closed out her career in a blaze of glory, striking out 14 in a two-hit effort, including the entire side in the top of the seventh to end the game. Koria also wanted to go out with a bang, and she ended with a monster kaboom... in the form of a go-ahead, 260-foot home run in the bottom of the sixth inning in her final high-school at-bat, ending with 45 home runs in her storied career.

In the same game, Kailee Cuico hit a game-tying home run for the first high school home run ever hit at UCLA, in the bottom of the second inning after the Conquistadors took the early lead in the top half with a fielding error. Kailee hit four home runs in the playoffs, also going deep against King-Drew and Palisades in the first two rounds, and then again in the semifinals against Granada Hills.

San Pedro once again captured the Marine League championship with a 10-0 record, and even gained some revenge along the way with a stunning 4-1 victory at Pacifica of Garden Grove. 

Fittingly, the Long Beach State-bound Petty (Pitcher) & the Arizona-bound Koria (Player) once again shared top honors for the CIF-LACS and the Marine League.

2009 Season (28-4 Record) - Out of all the CIF-LACS championships San Pedro won this decade, the 2009 team was undoubtedly the most unlikely, and easily the most dramatic.

Eight times, the Pirates rallied from huge deficits to win games, with the largest hole being a 7-0 deficit after two innings against North Torrance. San Pedro somehow rallied to win 11-9 over the eventual CIF-Southern Section Division 3 champion Saxons. In another classic comeback, San Pedro trailed Carson 3-0 going into the bottom of the fifth inning, then rallied to win 4-3 by scoring three runs in the bottom of the seventh, two of which coming courtesy of a walk-off single by Hannah DeGaetano to capture their tenth straight Marine League crown on the final day of the regular season.

The mother of all comebacks came at UCLA, as Banning had the Pirates down 6-3 with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning. On the next two pitches, Chloe Oro legs out an infield single to force home a run, then would score all the way from first on what should have been an inning-ending pop out off the bat of Kailee Cuico... an inexplicable mistake in shallow right field drove in Oro and Simpson for the tying runs.

Finally, Stevens belted a lead-off double in the bottom of the seventh before scoring on a one-out single from fellow senior Kayla Monroy, and San Pedro would win 7-6 over their Harbor Area neighbors for an unprecedented fourth time in 2009... for another fourth straight CIF-LACS Division 1 championship.

Cuico was named CIF-LACS and Marine League Pitcher Of The Year, while Stevens earned CIF-LACS Player Of The Year honors. Both made huge sacrifices for the Pirates in 2009, as Cuico, an infielder by nature, took over the No.1 spot at pitcher due to Petty's graduation, and Stevens, a gifted outfielder, gradually made the transition over to the backstop as the catcher.

Stevens, Monroy and outfielder Bryana Simpson would leave as four-time champions, joining Spychaj, Esparza, Castagnola and Heather Pegg in that elite list.

For the entire decade alone, San Pedro finished with 281 wins, 24 losses, one draw, a staggering ten Marine League titles (three of which shared in 2001, 2003 and 2006), four El Segundo Tournament titles (2003, 2004, 2006, 2007), two Downey Tournament titles (2003, 2009), and of course, the nine CIF-LACS championships with one runner-up finish.

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