By Steve Breazeale
The Capo Girls Softball 14U All-Star team paved their way to the American Softball Association C State Championship game by using small ball tactics. Bunts, hit and runs and hitting for contact has been their trademark in a season that has seen them claim seven consecutive tournament wins and compile an overall record of 59-4.
But when they took the field for a game against rival Garden Grove in the championship game of the coveted state championship on July 19, Capo Girls Softball head coach Dan Massucco decided to abandon small ball and have the local team swing for the fences.
Garden Grove defenders were creeping in on defense, allowing space behind them to be exploited, which is what the Capo bats took advantage of. They put on an offensive display and held a three-run cushion heading into the final inning. Pitcher Nicole Arico, who pitched the game with Super Glue holding a broken nail on her throwing hand together, got out of a bases loaded situation in the seventh inning and the Capo team went on to win, 7-4.
Garden Grove had eliminated the Capo team in the district championships weeks earlier, which made the state re-match between the two that much more gripping.
“I told the team to forget the bunts and let’s play ball (in the state championship). We started hitting the ball and it exploded,” Massucco said. “To take state, which was goal all along, was great. But to beat the team that beat you at districts was a good feeling.”
It is the first time in the program’s history that a 14U team, which draws players from San Juan Capistrano, Dana Point, Ladera Ranch, San Clemente and Laguna Niguel, has won the state tournament. They will now head to the ASA Fast Pitch Girls National Western Championships in Medford, Ore. on July 29.
In the buildup to the tournament, following their runner-up finish at districts, the team brought in high school softball pitchers from San Juan Hills and Dana Hills high schools to face in batting practice. They also ramped up their pitching machines to 70 mph, faster than what they were expecting to face in the state tournament. All of the tinkering and practice resulted in the Capo hitters recognizing how to locate their favorite pitch to hit. They also had their expertise in bunting and speed to rely on.
“They had a lot of confidence going into the state hitting the ball. That punch back kind of gave us that momentum going into the finals. We believed we were the better team,” Massucco said. “Our strategy really created chaos and made us two dimensional.”
The San Juan Capistrano community has rallied around the team during their historic run. At a weekly Coffee Chat meeting at Mission Grill in San Juan Capistrano three weeks ago, several team members showed up to get ideas on how to fundraise for their trips. Massucco says travel to and from tournaments is not cheap, estimating that each player’s family has to pay between $700 to $1,000 for expenses.
After hearing of the team’s success and desire to raise money, Coffee Chat attendees immediately grabbed a cup and passed it around for donations. The team came away over $300. Mission Grill also hosted a Capo Girls Softball fundraising night and donated a large portion of the proceeds to the team.
For most of the players on the team, the regional tournament on July 29 will be the final time they play alongside one another before heading off to different high schools.
“I would love to say I want a top-10 finish, or to win, which would be amazing. But at the same time, I want them to have fun one last time,” Massucco said. “Regardless of what happens it’s been a remarkable, banner year.”
The Capo Girls Softball 14U All-Star team includes: Riley Dungan, Caitlyn Sung, Alexis White, Angelica Gonzalez, Taylor Hopper, Nicole Arico, Claire Steines, Grace Collier, Kyra Massucco, Alyssa Peterson, Alyson Salas, Mariah Bohl, Elibeth Flores and Regan Salas.
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