IRVINE -- Every champion deserves a worthy rival, and Norco has Corona Santiago. The two powers from the Big VIII League have engaged in countless battles over the years, and have combined for six Southern Section championships since 1998.
The seventh championship belonged to Norco, which made plays, got key hits and clutch pitching to score a 6-4 victory Saturday to win the Division 1 championship at Barber Park.
The championship is Norco's third, to go with season-ending victories in 2003 and 2009, in which it beat Santiago. It also capped a season in which the Cougars will finish as the No. 1 team in the nation.
Santiago (23-10), which upset Garden Grove Pacifica -- while it was No. 2 in the nation at the time -- was trying to win its second championship in a row. It also won titles in 1998, 2004 and 2006.
Santiago appeared to be out of the game, but scored four runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to pull to 6-4.
"They're a great opponent," said Norco coach Rick Robinson. "We had a 6-0 lead and I told them to play like it was 0-0.
"I was concerned the entire time."
The tying run was at the plate when the game ended, on Yvon Minogue's line drive back at pitcher Emily Lockman. The Nebraska recruit speared the ball and history.
"It's just really awesome to know I helped my team, I gave 100 percent and in the end we won."
Norco (31-2) had heroes throughout the lineup as it won the rubber game of three meetings this season between the teams. Norco had won 12-4 and Santiago had won 3-2, with a walk-off home run in the eighth inning.
Kylie Reed had three hits and scored two runs, Lockman (two runs) and Taylor Koenig both had two RBIs.
Lockman allowed only four hits. She walked one, hit two and struck out three. She got out of jams in the first and second inning when Santiago had runners at second and third base.
"The huge part there is that she struggled and made the big pitch to get out of it," Robinson said.
Norco took a 1-0 lead in the second inning. Ashley Goodwin singled up the middle, took second on a sacrifice and an out later scored on Amanda Sandoval’s single to left field. Goodwin was going to make left fielder Nikki Orozco make a good play to throw her out, and Goodwin scored easily.
Norco made it 3-0 in the third inning. Reed got a leadoff single, her second hit, and took second on a wild pitch; she scored on Emily Lockman’s double down the left field line. Taylor Koenig followed with single to left as third base coach Robinson sent courtesy runner Breanna Rocha home.
Norco scored three in the fourth inning, all with two out. Reed delivered her third single, stole second, and scored on Abby Lockman’s single, a ball nearly caught by shortstop Alex Vargas, who dove in the air and bobbled it all the way to the ground on a great individual effort. Emily Lockman then doubled off the right field fence to drive home her younger sister for a 5-0 lead. Koenig’s bad-hop single over the glove of Vargas drove home Emily Lockman to make it 6-0.
Santiago's big inning was the bottom of the fifth. With one out, leadoff batter Brittany Abacherli reached on an error by second baseman Goodwin. Orozco grounded up the middle for an infield single to put lead runners at first and second. Erin Rodriguez’s soft single to left loaded the bases for cleanup hitter Randel Leahy. She was hit in the knee giving Santiago its first run. Danielle Hernandez hit softly over the middle for another infield hit and an RBI, bringing the score to 6-2 with the bases loaded. Mingoue’s grounder to short skipped past for an error that allowed two runs to score and put runners at first and second with one out. Consecutive grounders to third base ended the inning.