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Saturday, June 4, 2011
Division 1 softball: Corona Santiago 4, Anaheim Canyon 1

By Martin Henderson

Lauren Sweet
Corona Santiago catcher Lauren Sweet hit a walk-off grand slam to clinch Division 1 title.

IRVINE -- It was the biggest moment of their high school careers, and the Southern Section Division 1 championship came down to one at-bat.

One team's best pitcher against one team's best hitter.

Cheyanne Tarango, the Anaheim Canyon pitcher in the signature performance of her career, was trying to close out Corona Santiago against one of the biggest obstacles in the state: Lauren Sweet, who had 14 home runs.

It was a duel won in grand fashion -- by the hitter.

Sweet drilled a 3-and-1 pitch over the center-field fence -- only her team's second hit of the game -- for a walk-off grand slam that provided a 4-1 victory for third-seeded Santiago.

The Saturday night blast at Barber Park gave the Sharks (28-5) their fourth title and first since 2006, and makes them the probable state champion. They were ranked No. 10 in the nation by ESPN Rise, and the victory was their 20th in a row.

It denied Canyon (23-8) in its first finals appearance. The third-place team from the Century League had beaten No. 5 Los Alamitos in the semifinals, and had Santiago on the ropes.

It was one of the best high school finals in memory.

The dramatic seventh inning began with a walk and a fielder's choice for one out. But then Tarango walked No. 7 hitter Jordan Mowatt on a 3-2 pitch. After Carissa  Turang's two-strike bunt advanced the runners to second and third, Brenda Lee fouled off three two-strike pitches before walking on a 3-2 pitch.

"I wouldn't say I was tired, but I was trying to do it myself," said Tarango (23-8), who will continue her career at  Tennessee. "The zone was a little tighter. One of those things where you have to make them put it in play."

That brought Michigan-bound Sweet to the plate and the crowd to its feet. Tarango threw three balls -- even Sweet admitted there was a strike or two in the bunch -- before Tarango found the strike zone. With no room to pitch around her, Tarango went with her best pitch, a screwball.

"A straight screwball," Tarango said. "You either walk in the tying run or you make her put it in play."

Sweet answered with a sweet swing.

"I never get to hit with a 3-1 count," she said, referring to pitchers throwing ball four in order to minimize their damage. "It was crazy. Bases loaded. I haven't hit a grand slam ever."

Tarango pitched a two-hitter, but walked six -- four in the last two innings, including Sweet intentionally -- and hit one. She struck out five.

Sweet's walk-off homer made a winner of sophomore Erica Romero (16-3), who pitched a four-hitter. She struck out six and walked one. Her only mistake was an opposite field home run served up to freshman Taylor Swearingen in the third inning.

The next time Swearingen came to bat, the bases were loaded. Canyon might have scored on Kelly Stowe's two-out single to center field, but she hit it too hard and pinch-runner Kaylenne McClure had to hold at third. Swearingen took a couple of cuts like she was trying to hit her second homer, but she eventually popped up to shortstop.

Canyon nearly scored in the sixth inning on Tarango's drive to center field, but the ball was caught by Brittany Abacherli as she crashed through the temporary fence, saving a home run.

In the bottom of the sixth, Tarango issued a leadoff walk to Lee, and after a passed ball, Tarango intentionally walked Sweet. After a sacrifice to move both runners into scoring position, No. 3 batter Randel Leahy popped to shortstop and Erin Rodriguez's grounder to first baseman Swearingen was bobbled but was still able to dive to the bag ahead of Rodriguez.

"We played phenomenal," Canyon coach Dan Hay said, "until the last inning."

That's why they play them. For moments like the one Saturday.