Grossmont Conference softball teams battle the way to CIF championships

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If there is a roar coming from East County this week, it is the sound of battle as the fiercest of Grossmont conference’s softball teams fight their way towards the CIF championship. 

East County has always been a force to be reckoned with on the softball diamond, but this year they are leaving their dominance undisputed as they take over playoffs. 

If there is a roar coming from East County this week, it is the sound of battle as the fiercest of Grossmont conference’s softball teams fight their way towards the CIF championship. 

East County has always been a force to be reckoned with on the softball diamond, but this year they are leaving their dominance undisputed as they take over playoffs. 

Grossmont head coach Jerry Lerud, whose own Foothillers (No. 3) took on Steele Canyon (No. 2) in the second round of Division II playoffs, said that this is the best showing East County has had in playoffs in a quarter of a century. 

“It shows the county the level of ability we have from players in East County when we have the top three teams from Division II,” he said. “In fact, all of Grossmont Conference made the playoffs this year. That’s the first time since I’ve been here — 24 years — that all eleven teams have made the playoffs.”

Grossmont lost to the Cougars on Saturday, May 20, 2017, and drop down to the lower bracket trudge their way back up towards semifinals this weekend. Steele Canyon will play 1st-seeded Santana (22-7-1). 

Mount Miguel (No. 5) is set to play in Division V semifinals on Thursday, May 24, against Foothills Christian, another East County school. West Hills (No. 10) will take on Rancho Bernardo this week for round three of Division I playoffs and Granite Hills (No. 7) will play Mater Dei Catholic in the third round of the Open Division. 

Steele Canyon (22-11-1) has a well-balanced team of veterans and enthusiastic fresh gloves. Last year they finished fourth and head coach Kevin Pearlstein said he hopes they can finish in the top spot and give their seniors a proper sendoff. 

But winning a playoff game is no easy task. 

“It’s seven innings of being focused,” said Pearlstein. “The good part is we haven’t played our best ball yet. We’re still a work in progress. If we were playing lights out, I’d be a little nervous.”

The Sultans is in a similar situation. Santana head coach John Failla said their first round win against Otay Ranch felt lucky, lamenting their lack of defense that is normally the team’s strongest quality.

“The competition is going to get tougher as we go,” he said. “We have to play one game at a time. We concentrate on Saturday’s. If we look ahead, then we’ll play like we did today.”

Santana beat Bishop’s School on Saturday to advance to semifinals.

Key to future victories, Failla said, is the Sultans’ pitching and defense, which is led by superstar sophomore Madison Mendez.

“She pitched almost every inning for us this year and last,” said Failla. “She’s a workhorse. She was a twenty-game winner this year. This was her twenty-first victory today. She’s special, she’s a competitor. She does whatever we ask her.” 

Mendez and her teammates expressed confidence in the rounds that would follow their win over the Mustangs last week. Sophomore Ashley Madrigal, KUSI’s player of the week, said baby steps would take them all the way to the finish.

“We could do better as a team, I know we can,” she said. “We’re just one step closer to our CIF championship with our girls. We’re going to dominate in playoffs. We got this.”

It is a confidence that is spilling from East County teams in equal measure. 

Lerud said his girls would be rallied and ready for semifinals, despite taking the tough loss from Steele Canyon.

“These kids have the experience,” he said. “For some of them, this their third or fourth year making the playoffs. They’ll pick it up another notch and they’ll be focused. This won’t bother their play at all.”

Grossmont won Division III last year, so Lerud said he is proud that his team has made it so far in D2. The loss to the Cougars does not have him fazed, he said.

“Credit where it’s due — [Steele] created their own opportunities,” said Lerud. “We just had the opportunity to stop and didn’t. But we’ll see them again. We’ll get ‘em.”

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