By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
Long before the first pitch was thrown in last Thursday’s regular-season finale, the Palisades High girls softball team knew it had already clinched a share of the Western League championship. However, the Dolphins were hardly satisfied. They were determined to win the title outright and send their five seniors out on a winning note in their final regular-season home game. Seven innings later, coach Tori Dario and her players were in a partying mood after their 8-2 triumph over LACES that not only clinched sole possession of first place but earned the Dolphins the No. 1 seed in the City Section Division II tournament.
“The team worked hard this year and the girls more than deserve to wear the crown,” said Dario, who has piloted the program to a stellar 30-6 league record in three seasons.
It was an emotional game for Paulette Ely, who pitched the first four innings, allowing five hits and striking out three batters, before handing the ball way to fellow senior Gretel Payne for the last nine outs.
“It was pretty important to me to get the start,” said Ely, a four-year varsity player headed for San Diego State. “This is one game I wanted to win so we could prove without a doubt we deserve to win league. It still hasn’t hit me that this was my last league game. For us seniors this is our season to make it happen and we feel very confident going to the playoffs.”
Sasha Vanley had three singles and two RBIs, Calia Hunter had two hits and scored three runs, twin sister Talia had two hits and two RBIs and senior third baseman Jaylene Navarro scored two runs and stole one base.
“I started playing when I was around 8 and my dream was to be the first girl in Major League Baseball… I hated softball,” Navarro confessed to her teammates afterwards. “The best memory for me is beating Venice because we hadn’t done it since my freshman year. What won’t I miss? Being hit by pitches. I’ve led the team in that category two years in a row!”
Payne had one hit, an RBI and allowed two hits from the circle. A three-year varsity player bound for the University of Michigan, recalls her mother giving her $5 to go back on the field after being hit in the eye as a kid and called it “the best money ever spent.”
Senior infielder Jenny Talbot (Cal Poly Pomona) won’t miss her coach yelling “Run until I say stop!” Catcher Caroline Bamberger (Stanford) said stats don’t define you and warned: “Ice your injuries or you’ll regret it.”
Palisades hosts 16th-seeded Rancho Dominguez or 17th-seeded Van Nuys in the second round today at 3. If victorious, the Dolphins (11-8) will host a quarterfinal game next Tuesday.
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