Like Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed throwing haymakers in the middle of the ring, the Mills and South City softball teams put on a performance worthy of a championship fight.
The top two Peninsula Athletic League Ocean Division teams met Wednesday at South San Francisco’s Ponderosa Field with the division title on the line, along with the division’s lone automatic Central Coast Section bid. The Vikings came into the game undefeated in Ocean play and a game ahead of the Warriors — whose only loss came to Mills April 12.
Mills had South City on the ropes, with visions of a 10-run, mercy-rule stoppage looming in the bottom of the fifth, but the Warriors staved off elimination by scoring three runs in the fifth and three more in the sixth.
But the Vikings got a 1-2-3 bottom of the seventh to come away with a 13-8 win and their first division title since 2015.
“It was great to jump out early and then add on,” said Mills’ first-year head coach Chris Hammond. “[The Warriors] wouldn’t go away and they didn’t go away.”
When Mills’ freshman catcher and cleanup hitter Ione Thompson blasted a bases-loaded drive to right field and hustled around the bases for a fifth-inning grand slam, it gave the Vikings a commanding 13-2 lead.
Thompson finished the game 3 for 5 with four RBIs and three runs scored.
It initially looked as if it would be the icing on the cake of a lopsided, mercy-rule win. Instead, it proved to be the difference in the game.
“There were a lot of nerves. We wanted [the win] real bad,” Thompson said. “We didn’t expect to be handed a win.”
Pitcher Sofia Mosqueda was the beneficiary of the Mills’ offense, which scored 13 runs on 17 hits. She was solid through the first four innings, before being staggered by South City with three runs in both the fifth and sixth innings.
But Mosqueda buckled down in the seventh, retiring the Warriors in order to preserve the victory.
“She’s put [us] on her back all season,” Hammond said.
The one Warrior who consistently did damage all game long was No. 3 hitter Lafu Malepeai, who almost single-handedly kept the Warriors in the game. The junior third baseman was a perfect 4 for 4 from the plate. And when she got on, she rarely stopped, taking extra bases when the Mills defense let its guard down.
“We knew it was do or die,” Malepeai said. “I had to be more aggressive and do what I needed to do to get into scoring position.”
She hit singles in both the first and third innings, doubled and drove in a run in the fifth and capped her game with a monster, three-run homer in the sixth, cutting the South City deficit to 13-8.
“[Malepeai] was lights out,” Hammond said. “That girl competed hard.”
While both teams had chances to score in the first inning, they both came up empty. Mills, however, put the pressure on South City with a three-run second, the first of four straight scoring innings.
Cassandra Stanley gave Mills a 1-0 lead with the Vikings’ third straight hit to start the second. Olivia Williams added a bases-loaded single for a second run and Hannah Kwong capped the inning with an infield hit that drove in Williams.
Kwong, who turned 16 on Wednesday, turned in one of the game’s defensive highlights when she snagged a line drive and then went to second for an unassisted double play to end the fifth inning.
South City got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the second when freshman catcher Michelle Hara doubled to lead off the inning and scored on a Jianna Nabung single.
Mills came back with another three runs in the top of the third. Olivia Williams drove in Victoria Williams with an infield hit. That was followed by No. 9 hitter Nicole Boie, who laced a two-run triple to right to put the Vikings up 6-1.
South City manufactured a run in the bottom of the second when Malepeai reached on an infield and went to second on a head’s up base running play. She came in to score on an Alanah Torres single.
South City had a chance to score more and keep the inning alive, but Mills left fielder Taylor Whitney scooped up a Hailey Meisenbach single and cut down the base runner at the plate, with Thompson doing a courageous job of waiting on the throw and tagging out the runner as she went by to end the inning.
Mills tacked on two more runs in the fourth and seemed to put the game away with a five-run fifth. In addition to Thompson’s grand slam, Victoria Williams added a solo shot to put Mills up 13-2.
South City did not go quietly. The Warriors scored three runs on four hits in the fifth — with Kwong’s web gem limiting the damage. Malepeai’s bolt in the sixth gave the Warriors hope they could come all the way back.
Only to fall short.
“I think we did (believe we could come back),” Malepeai said. “But [Mills] shut it down.”