One year after a strong runner-up finish in Sectionals, the San Marino National Little League 9-10 year old team leaned on six returning players and six talented newcomers to win the Southern California State Softball title. San Marino won its first game against Azusa, 17-0, highlighted by multi-hit games from Peyton Kim (4 RBI, HR), Maddie Rome, Helena Martin, (4 RBI, HR), Cambria Henry (3 RBI, HR) and Hailey Flores. Makena Giddings and Julia Hosp added triples while every girl had at least one hit. Henry and Kim combined for a no-hitter. San Marino’s Manager, Dan Giddings (aka “Danager”), knew it would be tough the rest of the way. “We had the Group of Death draw with traditional powers Westchester Del Rey, Quartz Hill, and Apple Valley on our side of the bracket.
We scrimmaged WDR and knew they had one of the top pitchers in the tournament. We really worked hard on our small ball game, offensively and defensively, knowing that could be the difference against top[ line pitching.” WDR took a 3-1 lead into the 4th inning, and that is when Giddings called on the small ball game. After Martin drew a walk and Emme Winnarko singled, Giddings called on his daughter Makena to bunt, which resulted in a single and throwing error, scoring 2 runs to tie the game. In the 5th, the bottom of the line-up would take control as Julia Hosp singled, Morgan Teawsart had a bunt single, Flores had an infield single and Audrey Hosp walked in the go-ahead run. With one runner on in the 5th, WDR belted what seemed to be a for sure extra base hit and possible home run until Julia Hosp came out of nowhere to make the catch of the tournament in right center field. Once again, Henry and Kim combined for the win on the rubber.
San Marino once again utilized their small ball game, timely hitting and stellar pitching to beat Apple Valley, 5-1. Henry struck out 16 and allowed only 3 hits. Giddings worked her bunting magic once again, which forced a throwing error, scoring Kim from first base. Giddings stole home on an ensuing wild pitch for a 2-0 lead. In the 4th, Kim smoked a triple to score Maddie Rome and Harper Lee, and San Marino closed their scoring as Lee doubled in Audrey Hosp. The defensive highlight was the last out being recorded on a ball hit to the fence where San Marino executed a double cut relay to get the out at home.
Next up was West LA, who won their first three games by a combined score of 36-0 and scouting reports gushed about the West LA fireball pitcher. West LA was often seen in the stands scouting San Marino, so they would be prepared for the small ball approach. On this day, Cambria Henry would show she was the best pitcher in the tournament, throwing a complete game 2-hitter with 15 strikeouts and 0 walks (unheard of at this level). Even with Henry’s historic effort, the game was 0-0 in the 4th.
San Marino had their top of the lineup coming through so the game rested on this half inning. Kate Rome walked, Lee drew a HBP and Winnarko bunted forcing the West LA pitcher to hold the ball for fear of Rome scoring on the throw. Giddings came to the plate with two outs, and delivered the at bat of the tournament, to this point. As the fans chanted “SAN MARINO,” Giddings drew a full count and caught up to a fast ball just enough to carry over the left fielder’s head for a bases clearing triple, then took home on an errant throw. Tewasart had a 2-rbi single in the 6th to put the offensive nail in the coffin of the 7-0 victory. The defensive nail was supplied by Audrey Hosp as she threw out two batters at first base on what normally would have been singles, thanks to the tireless and thoughtful work of Coach Jason Rome.
West LA won their next game to earn a spot in the championship. Their ace pitcher was up to the task and San Marino committed a few errors that led to four WLA runs in the first inning, San Marino rallied but came up short 5-2, forcing the high pressure ‘if necessary game.’ The San Marino community came out strong the entire tournament and it mattered the most for this winner-take-all match-up with chants of “SAN MARINO, CLAP-CLAP-CLAP” ringing around the field. After some inspirational chats from SMHS softballer and two-time SMNLL State Champ Kayla Giddings, the girls flashed the leather in the top of the first. Giddings, snared a line drive, Julia Hosp ran down another shot to the gap and Kate Rome smoothly fielded a ball in the 5.5 hole and gunned down the runner to set the tone.
San Marino’s first five batters reached base. K. Rome walked, M. Rome singled, Lee had a bunt single that score K. Rome, Kim had a 2-run single and Winarko singled. San Marino showed their expertise on defensive small ball in the 2d inning when WLA bunted with a girl on first. Winarko quickly fielded the bunt and threw a missile to Giddings covering first to get the batter out, then Giddings fired across the diamond to Rome, the SS covering third base, to get the other baserunner out. WLA ultimately responded with 3 runs in the 3rd inning to tie the game. Lee responded in the 4th with an inside-the -park-home run to give SM the 4-3 lead. Henry, who went the distance in this game and threw 11 innings all day, was clutch on the mound, yielding zero walks and making a number of plays to help herself out. In T6, WLA had a base runner reach on an error, tripled in a run and took the lead on a wild pitch steal of home.
Emotions were running high in the San Marino dugout as they were chasing 1 run with the State title on the line. For the entire tournament, San Marino’s offense was successful due to its depth, often being led by the middle and bottom. In this moment, when the lights were shining bright and the pressure tight, it was the top of the lineup that delivered. K. Rome had an infield single, M. Rome walked on a full count and Harper Lee once again delivered by launching a majestic fly ball over the left fielder’s head for a walk-off moment that will not soon be forgotten.
Every girl reached base, showing the total team effort, and Henry ‘only’ had 5 Ks so the defense was key. Coach Phil Hosp kept the girls focused, loose and engaged as the dugout coach, while Coach Jason Rome expertly ran the defense. Manager Giddings commented, “This is the third State Softball Championship I have been a part of, and it is the sweetest given the high level of competition, the way the San Marino community supported us and how every single girl responded to adversity and pressure with greatness. The future of San Marino softball has never been brighter, but for now we are going to enjoy the moment together, as a softball family.”