It was late in the season and everything was going well for the El Monte High girls softball team.
Maybe a little too well.
The Lions had won their first 17 games and Coach Deborah Melker said the pressure of staying undefeated was starting to get to them.
"It's hard when you're winning because everyone's watching you and everyone is looking to beat you," Melker said. "You almost have to be a little bit stronger every game to keep winning."
That's when El Monte suffered its first and only loss of the season, a 6-1 setback to cross-town and Mission Valley League rival Arroyo on May 1.
Melker says the loss may have been the best thing that could have happened to her team.
'A Timely Loss'
"That was a timely loss for us," Melker said. "We were due to get beat. I think it just regenerated us and told us we had to get back up and get going again."
The Lions responded with eight straight wins, including five in the playoffs, to win the CIF 2-A Division championship--the first softball title ever for the school--last week.
El Monte beat Chino in the championship game, 3-2, after defeating Notre Dame Academy, St. Genevieve, Indio and Antelope Valley in preliminary rounds.
It was a memorable ending for Melker, who had long since announced that she was taking a one-year leave of absence as coach after this season.
Melker said it would be nice to think that the team won the championship for her.
Nice, but wrong.
"They didn't win it for me, they won it for themselves," Melker said. "They had a winning attitude all along and it just kept building throughout the season."
Melker remembers the 1984 season when the Lions won the Mission Valley League title only to lose to Workman in the first round of the playoffs.
Many of the names were the same, but Melker said that is about the only similarity between last year and this year.
"The difference is like night and day," she said. "Almost all the girls who were on varsity this year played last year. The year before we were almost starting (the program) from scratch. Last year we were building foundations and just learning.
"This year we were a lot further along at the start of the season. When you have the experience and a league championship to fall back on, you have a solid foundation."
Melker said the 1984 team did not have pitching depth, but that changed this year when freshman Stacey Campbell enrolled.
Campbell combined with her older sister, junior Jodi, to give the Lions one of the best one-two pitching duos in the CIF Southern Section.
Stacey "just has an incredible amount of poise for a freshman," Melker said. "If she continues to mature, she's just going to be that much better."
Stacey finished with an 11-0 record, 6 saves and a microscopic 0.16 earned-run average. Jodi was 14-1 with 2 saves and an 0.75 ERA. Jodi also played strong defense at third base and batted .409, second best on the team.
"Jodi has been an asset in so many ways," Melker said. "She's enthusiastic, a go-getter. She has matured and picked up a lot in terms of knowledge and ability."
She said the combination of the two has given the Lions an advantage they did not have last year.
"When you have two outstanding pitchers who can play other positions, you're probably going to do well," Melker said. "When they can play other positions, it makes us that much better." (Stacey doubles as an infielder.)
Two other standouts were junior infielder Janice Hall, who batted .397 and led the Lions in triples and doubles, and senior shortstop Veronica Ramirez, the team's top hitter with a .476 average.