Walnut, CA - After dropping their first game of the weekend in the first semi-final on Saturday afternoon, the Palomar College softball team managed to pull out a wild win and oust defending State Champs Cypress College in the evening session. The Comets rallied from a five run deficit in the final three innings of play, and got a walk-off fielder's choice as they earned their first tip back to the state title game since 2015.
The Comets would have to put their earlier loss behind them rather quickly, as they had to turn around and take on the Chargers less than an hour after their setback to Sunday's opponent Mt. San Antonio College. In the opening frames it appeared as if the hangover from the earlier loss may stick around, with Cypress jumping out to a pair of scores in the top of the first via an Infinity Laufou double to center and a Gabby Munoz RBI single to right.
Palomar would get a run back in the bottom of the first after Brynn Miller singled back up the middle, but the Comet offense was mostly lethargic through the first four innings. Cypress meanwhile added to their lead in the third with a sacrifice fly to left off the bat of Kellee Ross, and then scored thrice more in the fourth thanks to a Palomar error and a Kiani Pauailoa two-RBI single through the right side of the field.
Trailing 6-1 through four, Head Coach Lacey Craft made a bold move midway through the top half of the fourth inning replacing State Pitcher of the Year Alicia Garcia with Allie Hughen. Hughen also saw relief action in the previous contest, throwing three peerless innings. She continued that trend against the Chargers, retiring 10 of the 11 batters she faced, with the lone Cypress base runner getting on via an error.
With Hughen holding down the circle, the vaunted Palomar offense finally began to roar back to life in the bottom of the fifth. Crystal DesLauries kicked things off with a single to center that drove in a score, and was promptly followed by an RBI single to left by Kylie Pignone that made it 6-3. The rally nearly continued in that inning, but DesLauriers was cut down at home on the Pignone single by the relay into home from left field in a bang-bang play.
Despite the rally falling shorter than expected, the Comets picked right back up in the bottom of the sixth. Keyona Villanueva hit an RBI single to left, followed by a fielder's choice RBI for Sarah Fisher that pulled the game to within a single score. After a slow start in the circle, Garcia would come through for Palomar at the plate roping a double to center and plating Fisher tying the game up at 6-6.
Hughen would handle business in the top of the seventh, striking out the first batter swinging, inducing a pop-up to second base, and then getting the last out by striking out the batter looking. Palomar promptly kept momentum in hand by loading up the bases in the bottom half of the inning with no outs. That brought Jordan Ladner to the plate, needing just a fly ball to the outfield to end the game.
Or so everyone thought. Ladner did exactly what was needed, hitting a fly ball to left field about 12 yards in front the fence. That sent pinch runner Samantha Wisespirit hurtling towards home with the win in sight. In what would ordinarily be the play of the game, Cypress left fielder Vanessa Ayala sent a picture perfect throw on a string towards the plate. The throw would beat Wisespirit by a good two feet. What was bases loaded with no outs, turned into runners on second and third and two outs, with Palomar and Cypress still tied at six runs a piece.
With Cypress now showing new signs of life, Palomar had one final chance to end the game. Up came Jillian Zamora for the Comets, and though she did her best to battle, all she managed was a grounder to first. In what should have been the end of the inning if the Charger first baseman were to step on the bag, turned into the winning run, when she instead threw the ball towards home to try to get the runner from third in a non-force situation. Headed home was Pignone, and she easily beat the throw with no tag in sight, ending the game in wild fashion.
Hughen (3-0) would earn the victory in the game, striking out four Cypress batters. Hughen was also 2-for-4 at the plate, scoring one of Palomar's seven runs. Hughen was one of six Palomar batters with at least two hits, including Fisher who went 2-for-4 with a pair of runs scored, and Pignone who was 2-for-4 and score the game winning run.
For Cypress, Laufou finished 1-for-2 with three runs and an RBI. Munoz was 2-for-4.
With the win, Palomar extended their life on the weekend and set themselves up to play for a State Championship on Sunday. The Comets will take on the weekend's host the Mounties of Mt. San Antonio College. The Comets will need two wins on Sunday if they're to take home the program's sixth state title. The Mounties meanwhile need to win just one game, for their fifth state championship in program history. The initial showdown is schedule for a 12:00 PM first pitch.