BURBANK — The Bellarmine-Jefferson High softball team is at it again.
The Guards coaches and players are convinced that playing against teams from higher divisions and tough programs last season ultimately led them to capturing the CIF Southern Section Division VI championship.
Following that guideline, Bell-Jeff is again going up against top competition this season. Thursday, that competition came in the form of Harvard-Westlake, a Division III program that tied for the Mission League title in 2013.
Early errors helped put the Guards at a three-run disadvantage. However, Bell-Jeff shook off the miscues, regrouped and came back to earn a 6-4 victory against the Wolverines at Gross Park.
Last season, Harvard-Westlake defeated Bell-Jeff, top ranked in Division VI, by a 14-1 margin in a nonleague five-run mercy-rule result and a 6-1 win in a tournament matchup.
"This is the kind of team that we want to play and need to play, against," said Bell-Jeff Coach Florencio Galindo, whose team is 2-0. "We're only going to see how good we can be when we play quality competition and we get tested. Like today, here is a Division III team that many pick to win the Mission League. That is good competition for us."
The Guards' resolve was tested early against the Wolverines (0-2), who were going up against Bell-Jeff ace Mia Acosta (2-0), a senior.
In the first inning, Acosta got off to a rough start. That rocky beginning wasn't helped any by two Bell-Jeff errors in the infield. After hitting the first batter she faced, Acosta surrendered a bunt single and a walk to load the bases. The Wolverines were able to tally the first run of the game on an error at third base and made it 3-0 when Lauren Lapesarde singled to right to plate two more runs.
"When we made those errors we just had to shake it off," Bell-Jeff senior center fielder Priscilla Panizo said. "If we just put our heads down and got mad about it, we probably would have lost the game. But luckily we all were able to pick each other up and we were able to get things back together.
"A lot of us have been playing together since freshman year and even before. So, we know each other so well and I think that helps."
Panizo had a productive day for the Guards, going two for three with a home run, three runs batted in and a run scored. She was also hit by a pitch. Teammate Tiffany Galindo, a senior shortstop, was three for three with a walk and two runs scored.
The Guards wasted little time getting a run back. In their half of the first, Galindo led off with a walk that was followed by a single up the middle by senior catcher Samantha Casarez. It looked as if Harvard-Westlake starting pitcher Hailey De La Rosa would get out of the jam after she struck out the next two batters. However, with two outs, Cristine Colon walked to load the bases. The next batter, Panizo, was hit by De La Rosa, which scored a run. De La Rosa got out of the inning with a strikeout.
Bell-Jeff tied the score at 3 in the third inning when senior first baseman Sofia Palacios reached base on an error and scored on a two-run home run to right-center field by Panizo.
Another Bell-Jeff error led to a Wolverines run in the fourth. Leadoff hitter Molly Steinberg tripled to right-center field and scored when the cut-off throw sailed over the Harvard-Westlake dugout.
"That's just too many errors," said Florencio Galindo, whose team accounted for five in the game. "I don't know if it was rust or what. That is unusual for us. You just can't make errors like that against a good team."
The Guards were able to rebound, pushing across three runs in the fourth inning. Clarissa Cabrera walked to start the inning and Galindo followed with a infield single. The two were able to score on a triple to right-center by Casarez. Casarez was then played on a sacrifice fly to center field by Palacios.
Acosta went the distance, allowing six hits and striking out nine.
"Hey, they found a way to win and that's all that counts," Florencio Galindo said.