MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. – The St. Francis Lancers made high school softball history at home on Saturday afternoon.
Using a combination of hitting throughout the line-up, the use of its entire three-headed monster pitching staff, and a near flawless defense, St. Francis won a state title in the top division after a 6-0 victory over Clovis secured the inaugural state CIF Northern Regional Division I championship.
With the victory St. Francis (31-2) finished the season on a 16-game winning streak, and in doing so not only re-affirmed its status as the top team in the Prep2Prep CIF Central Coast Section but as No. 1 in the state as ranked by Cal-Hi Sports.
“These girls took it to another level,” remarked St. Francis head coach Mike Oakland. “They’re at a point right now where I don’t know if we’ll ever be as good as we are now.”
St. Francis starter Kate Munnerlyn, a sophomore left-hander that pitched a complete game three-hit shutout on Thursday in a 4-0 semifinal win over Sheldon-Sacramento and a complete game three-hitter in a 6-2 quarterfinal win over St. Francis-Sacramento on Tuesday, gave up two singles in the first three innings. Unfortunately for the Lancers faithful, for the first two innings Munnerlyn’s teammates couldn’t push any runs across after stranding four, including three in scoring position.
Things changed in the bottom of the third when St. Francis scored what turned out to be the only run it would need, but it could have been more. Junior Carly Cummings singled to open the inning. She went to second on a groundout by Minnesota-bound senior Jessica Oakland. Washington-committed senior Sydney Stewart then singled but when Cummings tried to score she was thrown out on a perfect relay from Clovis right-fielder Taylor Johnson to second-sacker Ashley Roja to catcher Sueva Sweeney.
That brought Boston University-bound senior Brooke Deppiesse to the plate. She doubled to drive in Stewart. Sophomore Shannon Keighran singled and the Lancers looked like they might get more with runners in first and third, but Clovis senior Cal State-Northridge pitcher Lauren Carranco struck out junior Chloe Cummings to end the threat. At that point St. Francis had stranded six and finished the game leaving 14 runners on base.
Munnerlyn got in a bit of a jam in the fourth. After she gave up a leadoff single to Kaylynn Munoz and a double to Brooke Brazil to put runners on second and third, Coach Oakland did not hesitate to bring in Keighran. She had started in the CIFCCS Open Division 6-5 title game victory over Archbishop Mitty-San Jose, but when she got in trouble Munnerlyn came in to relieve her.
Keighran promptly struck out the next batter, then got a grounder to short that Jessica Oakland gobbled up and made a great throw home where senior catcher Ella Milante took it in a perfect position and applied the tag to Munoz for the second out. Keighran then got the next batter on a soft popup to first-base girl Stewart.
As fate may have it Milante led off the bottom of the fourth and blasted a home run over the fence in the left field power alley to give the Lancers a 2-0 lead. From there St. Francis loaded the bases with one out, but Carranco escaped trouble and left them all on base.
The escape ability of Carranco came to an end in the bottom of the fifth. After Keighran gave up a single in the top half of the inning St. Francis came alive to put a four-spot on the board in the bottom half to close out the scoring.
Keighran doubled to lead off the inning, but it looked like Carranco might get out of trouble after striking out Chloe Cummings and Milante, but senior Claire Turner, the No. 9 hitter, stroked a single that drove in sophomore Rebecca Quinn who had come in as a courtesy runner for Keighran. Up stepped leadoff batter Alexis O’Gorman. The junior centerfielder singled to drive in Turner who had stolen second. Junior Carly Cummings then doubled to put runners on second and third.
Jessica Oakland was up next. Carranco had gotten the state’s reported leading home run hitter (21 home runs) out in the first and third, and gave up a single to her in the fourth, but this time she crushed a double that drove in O’Gorman and Carly Cummings for the game’s final tallies.
Keighran struck out the first two batters to start the sixth, and after giving up a single she struck out the next batter to end the inning.
St. Francis threatened in the bottom of the sixth with singles by Chloe Cummings and Turner, but Carranco was able to escape and give Clovis a final chance.
Keighran had been rolling along but after she walked the first two batters to lead off the sixth, Coach Oakland brought in the third member of his three-headed pitching monster, Chloe Cummings. She struck out the next batter and then got Johnson on a liner to second-sacker Deppiesse who threw to Jessica Oakland covering second and it caught the runner off the base for a double play that ended the ballgame.
Jessica Oakland and Stewart have done most of the heavy lifting for St. Francis, but just like they have all season the Lancers got a total team effort in every aspect of the game.
“That’s the key,” Coach Oakland said. “The depth of the lineup is unbelievable. Claire had three hits in the nine hole, Ella hits a home run in the eight hole. The top of the order, the bottom of the order was always getting on base.”
“Sooner or later it’s going to get you,” Oakland continued.
Jessica Oakland, the daughter of Coach Oakland, was quick to point out the effort of the entire team.
“It was definitely a total team effort. We played all sides of the ball well,” Jessica said. “We pitched well, hit well, played great defense. That’s what it takes to win a game against a very good team.”
Having three solid pitchers is certainly an anomaly and Coach Oakland has used it to his advantage all season.
“It speaks to the depth of our pitching staff,” Coach Oakland said. “Kate has already thrown two complete games this week so obviously she’s going to be a little tired, but even so she pitched great.
“Shannon hasn’t pitched since last Saturday and neither has Chloe,” Oakland continued. “I know they’re fresh and going to perform well because they’re that good. Having three pitchers is a huge advantage, and I’m fortunate to have them another year, buts it’s rare. Usually you have one pitcher or maybe one and a half, and if you have two you’re lucky. But three just doesn’t happen very often.”
Keighran talked about how each of the pitchers works as a unit.
“We all have each other’s backs,” Keighran said. “When we come in we know we have to shut the other team down.”
Even so, she came in the game in a very difficult situation.
“I knew I had to get outs,” Keighran responded when asked what was going through her mind when she was brought in. Kate picked me up in the past and I’ve picked her up. I just had to keep it simple and hit my spots.”
Clovis (27-7)just couldn’t get untracked and their eight-game winning streak came to an end. The Cougars had only tied for second place at 7-3 in the powerful Tri-River Athletic Conference, but after they rebounded to win an 11th CIF Central Section Division I championship they went from an afterthought to legitimate contenders and jumped from No. 16 to No. 7 in the Cal-Hi Sports rankings.
After the game Clovis head coach Mike Noel took it in stride. After all, his team was in the Northern Regional title game in the state’s top division.
“I’m very proud of these girls,” Noel remarked. “We came a long way and got better and better along the way, but we came across a team that’s really talented.”
“There’s not a bad bat in their lineup and they threw three pitchers at us and all three of them was tough,” Noel continued. “We feel good about it. You play this game long enough and you’re going to lose games, and lose some big games and this was one of those. You want to win but we’re good with what we did.”
Keighran was pretty stoked about being the NorCal D1 champions.
“It’s amazing. It’s crazy. It’s an awesome feeling,” Keighran said.”To win CCS last year as a freshman and now CCS again and this as a sophomore. I never thought going to this school we would be that good. It’s just really exciting and know we have to look to the future.
Jessica Oakland, Stewart and Deppiesse, plus some other seniors graduate, but the three-headed pitching monster returns as does O’Gorman, Chloe’s twin Carly, plus other underclass talent.
With what Coach Oakland returns, look for St. Francis to be one of the top teams in the state and certainly in Northern California to start next season.