A more than decade-long drought for District 16 Junior All-Star softball ended Thursday when the Crescenta Valley-Foothill team stamped its ticket to Arizona for the Western Regional Tournament with a 5-4 win over Westchester Del Rey for the Southern California Division III championship.
Volunteer District 16 Administrator Dave Ritchie said "right around 2000" was the last time a District 16 Junior softball team — a joint Foothill-Tujunga squad — won a Division III title and advanced to regionals.
Still, CVFH's thirst for postseason glory has yet to be quenched, as it won't be content to simply compete in the double-elimination Western Regional Tournament.
"[The run] has been a lot of fun and it's incredible that we get to go to Arizona and keep playing," said CVFH leadoff hitter and second baseman Sammy Fabian. "I think we all expect we're going to have really good competition [at regionals] and we just have to work as hard as we can to win it all."
The Western Regional opens with pool play. CVFH represents Southern California in Pool B, which consists of four other teams: Montana, Idaho, a to-be-determined host and Alaska. Pool A is composed of Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Northern California, Hawaii and Utah.
Tournament play kicks off Thursday with CVFH opening up against Montana at 5 p.m. If CVFH wins it will face Alaska Friday at 5 p.m. A loss would drop it into a loser's bracket game against the loser of Thursday's Idaho-host contest.
CVFH Coach Will Thayer hopes his team can start strong, as it has throughout the postseason, so it can settle into regional competition.
"Everybody is excited to go and hopefully in the first game we'll get out to an early start like we like to do and calm the nerves," said Thayer, whose team has scored in the first inning in five of seven postseason games.
What's made CVFH so dangerous this season is its balance offensively and defensively, particularly in the circle. Offensively, CVFH has averaged 8.9 runs a game, while holding the opposition to 2.1 runs.
The CVFH pitching staff, which is made up of ace Jordan Lousararian, closer Adela Alatraca and starters Alex Howard and Brenda Gamez, has recorded four shutouts this postseason.
CVFH will need to claim one of the top two spots in its pool — with three wins in pool play — in order to advance to the tournament's championship playoff round, which kicks off Monday with the top two teams from each section squaring off. The tournament concludes with a championship game Aug. 9 at 6 p.m. with the winner advancing to the Junior Little League Softball World Series, which runs from August 12-19 in Kirkland, WA.
A successful trek through Regionals for CVFH will have to be done short-handed, as CVFH catcher and No. 3 hitter Cailen Rodriguez will miss the entire tournament to attend her aunt's wedding.
"I don't know [how we replace Rodriguez], it's a huge loss," said Thayer, who also won't be there for CVFH's opener and may miss a few other games because of work commitments. "She is the heart of the offense and the heart of the defense so it's definitely going to be a challenge to fill that gap, but every player on the team has stepped up in big moments so they're just going to have to do more of that."
To make things even more difficult, CVFH will be without backup catcher Tiffany Bartamian for the first two regional games. Thayer plans on platooning shortstop/pitcher Howard and pitcher/infielder Lousararian at backstop until Bartamian rejoins the team.
"We will try to not think too much about it and win for her so she can come back and play," Howard said.
Shuffling the batting order is nothing new for CVFH, which was without Fabian, Bartamian and Gamez through parts of the Division and Section 2 tournament.
"I've gone at it without my leadoff hitter and now I will go at it without my No. 3 hitter," Thayer said. "That's the luxury of this team, there are so many girls who are so versatile and can do a lot of different things. So far the lineup has produced no matter what I've put in there, I am just lucky to have these girls who all can hit."
While a run to the regional title will be made more difficult with a thinner roster, Ritchie said a simple look at the history books shows CVFH has a chance to make even more history of its own.
"I think they have a good chance [to win it], we just have to wait and see," Ritchie said. "More often than not the team that comes out of Southern California winds up going to the World Series. You just never know, sometimes there's one hot team there and you're surprised at who it is. I have to like our chances, though, just based on history."