When Compton pitcher Valerie Joaquin walked to the mound to start the sixth inning of the championship game of the All-Star Jennie Finch Classic presented by Arm & Hammer, with Compton holding a 4-2 lead over NOLA, it looked like she’d be well on her way to another sparkling inning.
But first, she walked NOLA’s Money Littles before allowing a bunt single to Ca’Terra Bates. After a steal by pinch-runner Jordan Ware, NOLA had runners on second and third with no outs, and Compton had no room for error.
Enter center fielder Haile Torres.
Torres made an outstanding diving catch on a line drive before throwing the ball to shortstop Daisy Estavil, who threw home to catcher Raylene Zazueta, who swiped a tag down on Littles just before her hand touched the plate.
Triple play. Crisis averted.
Torres’ timely grab and throw set off a wild celebration outside Compton’s third-base dugout, one that was only topped two innings later when a groundout finalized Compton’s 6-2 win over NOLA.
“Our girls were singing whatever was coming to their heads, it was incredible,” Compton coach Bree Simpson said. “It didn’t feel like another game. It felt like the game we’ve been waiting for.”
Despite the four-run margin of victory, Compton had to play from behind early. After making a great diving play to prevent Compton from scoring in the top of the first, Littles hit an infield single that brought home NOLA’s Genise Wells, who avoided Zazueta’s tag with a slide to the outside of the plate.
That lead would be short-lived, however, as Compton took the lead in the top of the second on a two-run, inside-the-park home run from Mia Bacura. Bacura shot a ball down the right-field line that was just out of the reach of a dive attempt by NOLA’s Ware. Bacura, who finished 2-for-3 with a home run and a double, impressed Simpson with her play.
“She’s on our 14-year-old travel ball team and we decided to put her out here because needed a first baseman,” Simpson said. "She came out and did what we needed her to do.”
Compton added a run in both the fourth and fifth innings on an RBI triple by Savannah Pineda-Chavez and an RBI ground out by Ashley Salas. Compton added two more runs in the top of the seventh on an infield single by Lailah Bell. NOLA’s only other run came on an RBI single by Regina Fletcher in the fourth inning.
Joaquin finished the afternoon allowing two runs and three hits over seven innings. She struck out four NOLA batters.
“Valerie’s a fighter,” Simpson said. "She was amazing on the mound. We decided to throw her in right before I had to go to the plate. We put her there because of the grit that she has.”
For Joaquin, her strong start was a matter of settling down.
“I think I just needed to relax a little more,” she said. “I saw my teammates making plays out there and it really pumped me up.”
After Wells grounded out to second to secure Compton’s win, Joaquin's teammates mobbed her at the mound before being joined by Compton’s baseball team.
“Our relationship really helps the way we play,” Joaquin said. “We know we have each other’s backs, they’re a fun group to be with.”
A special guest
Monday’s Championship game was not only special for the players and coaches, but also for one family in attendance. In February, Marie Marcum was a playing a MLB-sponsored softball game at Chuck E. Cheese's, where, after a couple misses, the game told her that “there was always softball.”
After writing a letter to Major League Baseball expressing her frustration with the game, the league reached out to her and her parents, Lisa and Troy, and all three were invited to Monday’s championship game. After the game, Marie, clad in a red Jennie Finch cutoff jersey, took pictures with Finch on the diamond, in addition to getting signed softballs from Finch and Natasha Watley.
Marie, who plays shortstop and will play catcher next year, called the day “exciting.”