Cougar Softball does it again!

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Cougar Softball does it again!

Gary Evans

Gary Evans

Gary Evans

Gary Evans, Guest Writer

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Irvine (CC)- The Norco High Girls softball team defended their CIF Division 1 Title by defeating Temecula Great Oak 2 – 0 on Saturday May 18th, earning their 6th CIF Championship for the program, and the first Back to Back Titles for the school since football accomplished that in the 2005 and 2006 seasons.

The Cougars, (31-1 during 2019) will add another Championship softball to the left centerfield wall. That will join 2003, 2009, 2012, 2015, 2018, and now 2019. In that time period, Norco was also runner up in 2013 and 2017 (the 33 – 1 season), and semi-finalists in 2016.  The current senior class of Raegan Cheyne, Megan Forbes, Kinzie Hansen, Maile Maletta, and Paige Smith were a combined 118 wins and 10 losses during their Cougar careers. That class also spent a great amount of time as the No.1 to No.3 ranked high school softball team in the nation, depending on which poll you looked at.

To get to the CIF Division 1 Championship game, the Cougars only lost one game this season. They won league, and then defeated Vista Murrieta, Orange Lutheran, and Huntington Beach in the CIF playoffs.

Normally, the Division 1 game is the top draw for CIF, and that game, historically, has been played on Saturday night of championship weekend.  However, for only the second time in school history (last in 1984), the Norco Cougars Baseball team reached the CIF Finals, also. To allow Norco fans to attend both games, CIF swapped the girls game to Friday night, since the boys were scheduled to play at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles Saturday afternoon at 3 P.M..

The softball Cougars won a coin toss and were selected the home team.  A large contingent of Norco fans were in the stands. The game was streamed live on a Fox Sports site, and a play by play description of the game was given on the Life in Norco – 1923 to Today Facebook page.

The Cougars and Great Oak Wolfpack were scoreless going into the fourth inning. Freshmen right fielder, Abby Dayton, singled to left field.  Senior catcher Kinzie Hansen followed with a base hit to right, moving Dayton to third.  Senior third baseman Paige Smith hit a fly ball deep enough to right field, which allowed Dayton to tag and score the eventual game winning run.

Great Oak challenged in the top of the fifth, getting runners on first and second, but Smith threw to junior first baseman Katelyn Olson to retire the side.

The Cougars’ Hanna Doi drew a walk to lead off the Norco fifth, and Maletta was the courtesy runner. Maletta moved to second on a sacrifice. Great Oak intentionally walked pitcher Sara Willis to get to Dayton. Dayton promptly drove the ball to left field, but a fine running catch by the Wolfpack left field ended the Cougars inning.

A Norco error in the top of the 6th gave Great Oak runners at first and second with one out. Willis struck out the next batter and a ground out finished the Wolfpack’s chance.

In the bottom of the 6th, Norco added some insurance when Hansen led off with a wicked ground ball to the shortstop that bounced off her chest and allowed Hansen to reach base. Megan Forbes ran for Hansen, and reached second when Smith’s grounder to first bounced off her glove and towards the second baseman. She threw out Smith, but Forbes was safe at second. A wild pitch moved Forbes to third, and Kyleigh Sands drove a single into left field, scoring Forbes. Olson hit into a fielder’s choice, erasing Sands at second base. Doi battled and fouled off almost a dozen pitches before tapping back to the circle for the third out.

As excitement grew amongst the Norco faithful, a sharp grounder to Smith at third and the throw to Olson was the first out. A shallow pop fly to right was caught by Dayton for the second out. Great Oak would not go quietly, as the next batter singled past a diving Sand’s at short. Tensions grew as Willis, after several good and close pitches, issued a walk, putting the go ahead run at the plate.

Gary Evans

Willis worked the count to 1-2, then blew a pitch past the swinging batter. At first, Willis looked on in disbelief, which immediately turned to a huge smile, and she and catcher Hansen embraced halfway between the circle and home plate. The rest of the Cougar fielders and those in the dugout raced to them and dog piled in front of a solemn Great Oak bench.  Back to Back Titles for the Cougars.

Gary Evans

At the team banquet the following Monday, Coach Robinson praised the team, and the outgoing seniors.

He then issued to the returning players the challenge, “Let’s make it three in a row!”