IRVINE — Mention softball and Irvine High in the same breath, and Jennifer Brundage's name is sure to follow.
For the past four seasons, Brundage has been one of the premier pitchers in the county and Irvine's ace. Last year, for example, she won 21 games, pitched four no-hitters and was an all-county selection. She also batted .424.
But even Brundage's stellar work could not get the Vaqueros past the first round of the Southern Section 3-A playoffs in 1990. There is no such disappointment this season.
Irvine (24-3) not only managed to survive the opening round of the playoffs this year, but the Vaqueros find themselves in the title game of Division 4-A tonight at 8 against Foothill (24-2) at Mayfair Park in Lakewood.
A victory, Brundage said, would erase the memory of being ousted from the playoffs so quickly last year and would be a marvelous conclusion to her softball career at Irvine.
"It's been a goal of mine since I was a freshman," Brundage said. "I think this has been the best year we've had. It would be a great ending."
Brundage has been the catalyst of the team, providing excellent punch with the bat, and a solid and reliable workhorse at pitcher for Coach Lisa Limp. The senior right-hander is 20-2 with an 0.12 earned-run average, 213 strikeouts and one no-hitter. She has blanked three playoff opponents--including a 16-inning victory over Sunny Hills--and allowed one run over 37 innings.
She also leads the team in batting with a .432 average, in runs batted in with 21 and in triples with five.
With statistics that sound too good to be true, Limp said Brundage is a coach's dream.
"She has shown 100% commitment and dedication, which means a lot to the other team members and to me," said Limp, in her third year with the team. "She has shown the leadership. She's always working just as hard as the other players."
Brundage said that work ethic has been fueled this season by her supporting cast, which has made things easier for her. The defense has been strong, with sure-handed Brandi Armstrong (.937 fielding percentage) at shortstop and Alleah Poulson (.989) at first base, and speedy Carrie Caudill in center field. Lisa Goodwin has been steady behind the plate.
"Our defense has been really great this year," Brundage said. "I haven't had nearly as much stress as the past years."
That suffering shifted this year to the batters who faced Brundage. It's been a common affliction for opposing teams since Brundage began pitching in girls' leagues when she was about 8, after a year in boys' T-ball.
Besides having good pop on her fastball, Brundage relies on a variety of pitches--drops, curves, changeups. Add some savvy to that arsenal and it's easy to see why Brundage has been so successful.
"She's a very smart pitcher," Limp said. "She keeps the batters off-balance. When she's on, she's got a lot of movement on the ball."
Brundage says she won't worry if one or more of her pitches doesn't work properly tonight. As with all good pitchers, she has learned to adjust.
"I'm just going to go out and pitch," Brundage said. "Whatever works is the pitch I'll probably stick with."
Though Brundage typically makes more headlines with her pitching, it was her explosive bat that prompted UCLA to offer her a scholarship. She'll play for the Bruins next season, most likely in the outfield. But Brundage said her position on the field is not that important.
"I'm looking forward to playing wherever they put me," she said. "I'm looking to be a part of the softball tradition they've got there."
For someone who has done her bit to launch a similar tradition at Irvine, the move should be a natural.
Section Softball: Today's 4-A Final At Mayfair Park, Lakewood, 8 p.m.
IRVINE (24-3) FOOTHILL (24-2) Name Pos. Avg. Name Pos. Avg. Angela Wolf LF .274 Melissa Wielandt 3B .354 Brandi Armstrong SS .253 Amy Tessman 2B .171 Jennifer Brundage P .432 Kelley Green C .378 Karissa Meith 2B .281 Kathy Shortall SS .343 Shelley Byrd 3B .233 Christina Mazurie 1B .278 Carly Girton RF .411 Andrea Chambers RF .269 Lisa Goodwin C .188 Julie Metzger LF .203 Carrie Caudill CF .185 Leeann Gonzalez P .229 Alleah Poulson 1B .235 Julie Ehret CF .106
IRVINE (24-3) FOOTHILL (24-2) Name Pos. W-L Name Pos. W-L Jennifer Brundage P 20-2 Leeann Gonzalez P 21-2
IF IRVINE IS GOING TO WIN: Vaquero Coach Lisa Limp figures Irvine has to play excellent defense to defeat Foothill. "We'll have to always think ahead of the runners because I know they are a very aggressive team," Limp said. Offensively, Limp said she's looking for her team to "just make contact." Irvine has won three of its four playoff games by shutouts. The Vaqueros are making their first appearance in a Southern Section championship game.
IF FOOTHILL IS GOING TO WIN: Knight Coach Joe Gonzalez said his team needs to keep runners off base to win. "If we can scratch a run or two and don't put ourselves in a position where one batter can hurt us, I'd feel real good about our prospects," Gonzalez said. The Century League champions, which had never won more than one playoff game before, are riding a 22-game winning streak. They have a combined .258 team batting average.