BURBANK — The Bellarmine-Jefferson High softball team moved through the first two rounds of the CIF Southern Section Division VI playoffs with relative ease.
With wins against Frazier Mountain and Pasadena Poly, the Guards scored 18 combined runs and surrendered just one.
But in a quarterfinal contest Thursday against Cantwell Sacred Heart, Bell-Jeff found itself in a close contest. Fortunately for the Guards, they were able to receive a clutch hit in the third inning by Sofia Palacios to lift them to a 3-1 victory at Gross Park.
The win enables the Santa-Fe-League-champion Guards (20-10) to advance to the semifinals for the third straight year. The team reached the final four in Division VII in 2011 and 2012.
Bell-Jeff will take on host Santa Paula in a semifinal game at 3:15 p.m. Tuesday. Santa Paula defeated host Boron, 8-1, in its quarterfinal game Thursday.
Guards Coach Florencio Galindo said the ability of his team to win a tight contest is something that it desperately needed.
"Being in a close game to the end, that's only going to help us as we keep moving on," he said. "We haven't been in a lot of these close games and for them to know what it's like and what it takes to win is only going to benefit us. This is the kind of game we needed right now."
The Guards were never able to settle in against the Cardinals (18-7), who finished second in the Camino Real League. In fact, Bell-Jeff was able to hold off a late surge by Cantwell Sacred Heart to preserve the win, as the visitors had the tying run in scoring position in the final inning.
In the seventh inning with one out, Cardinal Julia Guzman reached base on a fielder's choice ball in the infield. The next batter, Britny Huerta, hit a ball that was mishandled for an error, putting runners at second and third. Facing the No. 9 batter, Stephanie Guerra, Bell-Jeff pitcher Mia Acosta delivered on a 2-1 count and Guerra hit it sharply to shortstop. However, Monique Landini scooped up the ball and made a hurried throw to first to nip Guerra.
"I just wanted to make a good throw," said Landini, who is headed to St. John's. "I wanted to make sure that I had it."
Acosta wasn't overpowering in the circle, striking out just three. However, she gave up three hits to pick up the win.
The big hit of the game was delivered by Palacios. In the Guards' half of the third, Landini reached base on a fielder's choice and Acosta followed with a single up the middle. After a flyout that gave the Guards their second out, Palacios came to the plate. She was able to tee off on Cantwell Sacred Heart starter Amanda Garcia, sending a towering shot into center field. The ball carried over the center fielder's head for a double that plated Landini and Acosta.
"I never even looked at how far or where it was going after I hit it," Palacios said. "I just put my head down and ran. I'm happy I was able to come up with a hit like that."
Tiffany Galindo was two for two with a run scored for the Guards.
Bell-Jeff found itself trailing right off the bat against the Cardinals. In the top of the first inning, Garcia hit into a fielder's choice and Anissa Loera followed with a walk. The next batter, Alexis Pintado, powered the ball up the middle for a run-scoring single.
Undaunted, the Guards came back and tied things at 1 in the bottom of the first. Galindo reached base on an error and scored on a base hit by Cristina Colon that dribbled off the second baseman's glove.
"We did miss our share of opportunities and we didn't capitalize," Florencio Galindo said. "We could have scored more runs. But I give our girls credit for continuing to fight and coming through with the win."