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CITY 3-A SOFTBALL : South Gate Is Denied Sixth City Title, 4-3


The odds were against Verdugo Hills in Thursday's City 3-A softball final against South Gate. Unseeded in the playoffs, the Dons were facing a powerhouse Rams team that had cruised to the final and held a comfortable three-run lead late in the game.

But a couple of Ram errors shifted Verdugo Hills' fortunes and the Dons came away with a 4-3 victory in eight innings and the school's first City title in any sport since 1937.

"We were pretty sure they weren't going to score, but then all of a sudden it was tied," said South Gate center fielder Angie Ramirez, a senior. "Once they broke the tie I had a feeling it was going to stay that way."

Stephanie Wood, who had doubled for the Dons, scored from third in the eighth after a ground ball by Crystal Martinez rolled between the legs of South Gate third baseman Norma Sanchez.

The top-seeded Rams (19-4) had outscored their three previous playoff opponents, 25-4, and appeared primed for another blowout as they took a 3-0 lead in the fourth.

Ramirez drove in two runs on a line-drive triple down the right-field line and scored on a sacrifice fly to center by Hilda Perales.

But Verdugo Hills (13-4) countered by sending nine batters to the plate in the sixth to tie the score at 3. Two runs scored on bases-loaded singles by Sheila Welda and Martinez. Kelly Balkey came in on a bases-loaded walk.

Verdugo Hills' victory broke South Gate's 18-game winning streak and denied the Rams their sixth City title. South Gate was making its ninth consecutive appearance in the final. The Rams won the championship in 1991, but lost to Roosevelt last year.

Pitcher Jennifer Hyder (11-3) took South Gate's loss in the final for the second year in a row. She struck out three of the first four batters she faced, but had just one strikeout thereafter.

"It's nice to make it the final again, but winning is the ultimate goal," said Ram catcher Michele Gonzalez said. "We didn't make the big plays to make it happen."

South Gate stranded base runners in scoring position in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings.

Verdugo Hills pitcher Rachael Maldonado (7-2) struck out Gonzalez with Sanchez on third to end the fifth. The junior right-hander also retired Gonzalez on a deep fly to right-center with Vanessa Martinez on second to send the game into extra innings. South Gate left Perales on second in the sixth.

"Sure we had a little luck, but everybody needs a little luck," Maldonado said. "It shook me up a little bit when they got ahead, but you can't let it upset your whole game."

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