From every poignant moment to every marvelous play to every memorable rally, Academy of the Holy Names’ season unfolded like some unbelievable softball fairy tale. Again and again, the Jaguars outdid themselves in inspiration and in achievement, and Thursday night at Legends Way ballfields they provided a joyous conclusion to their special story.
The thrilling journey ended in happiness when Academy of the Holy Names rallied — twice — to beat Windermere, 4-3, in the Class 3A final for its first state title, making one of this year’s most unforgettable teams even more noteworthy.
The Jaguars overcame a 2-0 deficit, scoring twice in the fifth inning to tie it. They watched the Lakers rally with two outs in the top of the seventh to retake the lead. Down to its final three outs, Academy of the Holy Names got the first two runners on base, then capitalized ona pair of throwing errors to bring both home for a walkoff win.
The win capped off an epic day for bay area teams at the state softball tournament. Hernando (4A) and Land O’ Lakes (5A) both erased significant deficits to pull ahead for good in the seventh inning of their semifinal games to advance to Friday’s final.
It was appropriate that the Jaguars clinched their first title with the same winning formula that helped them win 13 straight heading into Thursday’s final. Belle Sardja gave them another effective start on the mound in the postseason. Sardja did her part at the plate, too, with three hits and an RBI that tied the game in the fifth inning.
She was not the only one who supplied the offense. Three others — Zeta Bennett, Genevieve Chiellini, Camryn Feast and Rachael Petrarca,– each had a hit.
Still, it appeared it might not be enough.
The euphoria of tying the game was dampened when Windermere Prep scored once in the seventh to go up 3-2.
The Jaguars had already overcome so many odds, such as enduring the death of a beloved parent of two players and battling through the struggles to the start of an uneven season.
To them, they had the Lakers right where they wanted them. After all, Academy of the Holy Names never wore off its rally caps.
Chiellini led off with a single and Feast walked.
That set up Sardja for the heroics.
She smacked a ball that fell for a hit. The crowd began to cheer in disbelief. Many of them were already on their feet. Others rose to join them.
One run came across. Then another.
All the players leapt, in that ungainly way that kids jump around in excitement, skipping and hugging each other as they ran toward home plate, all to celebrate an elusive state title.
This was a fairy-tale team. This was a championship team.