In a true embodiment of saving its best for last, the Half Moon Bay High School varsity softball team broke its 11-game losing streak Thursday in its last game of the year, downing rival Terra Nova High School, 6-1.
In the victory, the Cougars did something they have been unable to do most of the year: they hit the ball from the outset, taking an early lead.
"I have no idea why," Cougar pitcher Tracy Victorino said. "It just all came together. We started hitting early on and we haven't done that all season."
The win pushed the Cougars' Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division record to 3-11, and put a positive end to a league season that started with consecutive wins but soon fell into disrepair when four key players went down with injuries.
Victorino, who sat out two games with a back injury, had no explanation for Half Moon Bay's struggles. She called the season frustrating, albeit a learning experience.
"I learned patience," Victorino said. "I learned how to put things aside when I really wanted to blow up . . . I don't think it had that much to do with new league. I don't really know what it was."
Against Terra Nova, some of that patience paid off. Sophomore Becky Castillo opened the game with a base hit to shallow right field, barely beating the throw to the bag. She advanced to second on a bunt from Lindsay Yamamoto, setting the table for Victorino, who was playing in her final game for the Cougars.
The senior made it memorable, sending the ball deep into center field for a triple that scored both Castillo and Yamamoto.
Terra Nova would not recover until the fifth, and managed to put only two runners on base through the first four innings. Meanwhile, Half Moon Bay scored three more runs in the third frame, again relying heavily on the hitting from the top of the order.
In that inning, Yamamoto reached first after being hit by Melissa Mittemiller's pitch, then took second when an error allowed Victorino to safely take first base. Then, catcher Liz Clark came up with a timely RBI double to score Yamamoto; Victorino and Clark used passed balls and errors to cross home plate.
Meanwhile, Victorino pitched one of her strongest games of the year, allowing just three hits and not walking a single batter. Despite the fact she recorded no strikeouts in the game, she was effective in forcing short grounders that often resulted in put-outs.
It was also one of Victorino's best batting performances of the year - the senior accounted for two of the seven hits the Cougars took off Mittemiller, a close friend of Victorino's.
"It's not a big deal," Victorino said of playing against Mittemiller. "We're just playing a game. I don't think much about it."
On Tuesday, Half Moon Bay struggled against Mills High School and fell, 4-0.
As was the case in past games, the Cougars could not string hits together and stranded seven runners. Mills scored once in the third inning off a Half Moon Bay error, but did not take a substantial lead until the fifth frame, when a series of solid Viking hits brought in three runs.
Despite the loss, Becky Castillo recorded two hits. Victorino and Aisha Williams both hit doubles, while Mindy Tetherow and Rachel Merlo both contributed base hits.