ANAHEIM – For two rounds of the playoffs -- three if you include a wild-card game to play into the first round -- La Palma Kennedy had been living the dream.
A series of upsets, including a victory over top-seeded Esperanza -- ranked No. 4 in the nation, no less -- had the Fighting Irish in a confident mood.
But the dream turned nightmarish against Anaheim Canyon on Thursday. Irish pitcher Candice Shadwell was hit hard, and Canyon rode a five-run first inning to an 8-1 victory in the quarterfinals of the CIF-Southern Section championships for softball.
“We had so much confidence,” said Kennedy coach Sarah Mesa, whose team scored an 8-5 victory over Los Osos in the previous round. “The first inning was really hard for us. They were the better team today.”
The early uprising gave Canyon confidence, too, and the Comanches weren’t lacking for it to begin with.
“We have enough (confidence) to win,” said third baseman Kelly Stowe, who had a single, double and triple, scored twice and drove in three runs. “We’re not overconfident. We’re not going to be cocky. As soon as you do that, you lose.”
With a five-run lead, pitcher Cheyanne Tarango was unbeatable. She struck out 11, and allowed only four hits -- two in the sixth inning when Kennedy scored its only run, on Samantha Concepcion’s single.
Coach Dan Hay said the move of the pitchers’ rubber from 40 feet to 43 feet impacted Tarango, who has signed with Tennessee.
“She finally figured it out, and she’s been phenomenal since the start of the playoffs,” Hay said of his team, which is ranked No. 40 in the nation by ESPN Rise.
Canyon, which has never reached a section final but had been to the semifinals four times, will make a fifth trip. The Comanches will play host to fourth-seeded Los Alamitos, a 9-0 winner over Riverside Poly. On the other side of the Division 1 bracket, third-seeded Corona Santiago defeated Marina, 4-2, and El Modena won at Valencia, 5-4.
Shadwell, who pitched a one-hitter against Thousand Oaks in the wild-card game and a three-hitter against Esperanza in the first round, was treated harshly by Canyon from the outset.
Jessica Munoz led of with a double, and six batters later Taylor Swearingen chased Shadwell with a triple. In between, Lauren Young and Stowe had RBI singles and Tarango drove home another with a fly to center field.
Shadwell was replaced by Mariah Ramirez, who was greeted with an RBI double by No. 8 hitter Kayla Blanco. By the time leadoff hitter Munoz grounded out, Canyon had six hits and a cushy 5-0 advantage.
It was Tarango time.
“She’s made a big difference in the playoffs,” Stowe said of her teammate. “She’s picked it up.”
It’s enough for Canyon, the third-place team from the Century League, to be in the semifinals for only the fifth time despite many years when it entered the season as a favorite to make a run at the title.
“The big thing is we were below the radar this year,” Hay said. “For the first time in four years, we remained healthy and have been healthy.
"The bottom line is we matured.”