COSTA MESA, Calif. – To say that 2017 was a historic season for Menlo College Softball would be very accurate. For just the second time in program history, the team received votes in the national polls that come out every-other week. Furthermore, the Oaks ended the regular season winning 15 of 16 to win a program-record 31 games. Unfortunately, when the playoffs begin, all of those numbers go away and the slate is wiped clean, as the Oaks saw on Tuesday. The second-seeded Oaks dropped a game to third-seeded William Jessup 7-0 and then were eliminated 1-0 against fifth-seeded San Diego Christian. Menlo wraps up 2017 with an overall record of 31-18.
Game 1: #3 William Jessup vs. #2 Menlo
Being in the playoffs, you know right away that you are going to be facing the best pitchers in the conference, and that's exactly what the Oaks had to deal with coming out of the gate. Shelbi Graifman was the opposing pitcher for William Jessup, and she was just named GSAC Pitcher of the Year. She sure pitched like it on Monday against Menlo, tossing a complete game shutout and beating Menlo for the third time this season. For what it's worth, this game marked the third loss for Menlo in the last eighteen games, and Graifman was the winning pitcher in all three games.
Victoria Cervantes was on the mound for Menlo, and she looked good during the first two innings of play, matching zeroes with Graifman. The top of the third inning struck, and things began to change. With one out, Tessa Harris singled up the middle and she was followed by Corina Salinas who also singled. Kyla Cisneros, an All-GSAC member for the Warriors, tripled to left field to score both runs and put the Warriors on the board 2-0. Graifman followed, helping her own cause, with a double to left field to make it 3-0 in a hurry. This was the end of the road for Cervantes, and Jordan Kennedy came in relief. She got a pop out to record out number two, but then a misplay in left field by Lauren Harrison scored one run and kept the inning alive. Ali Medina followed with Warriors' second triple of the inning, scoring Clarissa Blaquera, and made it 5-0. Haley Stevenson provided yet another extra-base hit, a double, to score the sixth run of the inning, but she was thrown out at third trying to extend it to a triple after a strong throw from Harrison.
The Oaks were only able to muster four hits in the game against Graifman, and Cassie Grana had two of them. The Oaks best chance in the game came in the third inning, when Keeley Hernandez walked, and then Harrison bounced into a fielder's choice, with Hernandez out at second. Grana singled, so the Oaks had two runners on with Bryce Etzler coming up. She bounced into a fielder's choice, moving Harrison to third, and then Brooke Menesini fouled out to end the inning. The only other hits recorded in the game were from Megan Wright and Kris McIntrye, setting the stage for Menlo having to play against San Diego Christian immediately after.
Game 2: #2 Menlo vs. #5 San Diego Christian
Menlo College did not have a long wait in between games, taking the field right after their first loss to play San Diego Christian. The Hawks lost 3-0 in their first game to fourth-seeded Hope International, setting up a playoff rematch from one year ago. The Oaks beat the Hawks 6-2 (the Oaks were the one-seed, the Hawks were the four-seed), but San Diego Christian eliminated Menlo two games later, with a 2-1 final. Monday's game in the consolation bracket mirrored that elimination game last year, with pitching being the story. Kendra Kuper and Victoria Cervantes dug in for what was one of the best-pitched games of 2017.
Nobody scored until the bottom of the fifth, when the game's only run was produced. Nicole Whitney led off with a single to left field, and Chelsea Cantwell entered as a pinch runner. On a bunt attempt, Sam Campos singled, putting two on with nobody out. The Hawks played successful small ball with a sacrifice bunt, and then Shelbi Evans singled home Cantwell with a shot to center field. This was the only scoring the game would see, though the Oaks had a chance in the top of the sixth.
Kris McIntyre led off and reached base on an error from Alex Barajas at first. Lauren Harrison walked and then Cassie Grana was hit by a pitch, giving the Oaks a golden opportunity to not only tie the game, but give them the lead. Bryce Etzler popped out to second, but Kendra Kuper still had two more outs to go. She got them both on the same play, as Megan Wright flew out to right field, and McIntyre was thrown out at the plate trying to score. Menlo also had a chance with the game scoreless in the top of the fifth after Brooke Menesini led off with a triple, but was left stranded after three straight batters failed to drive her in.
The Oaks may have fallen short of a GSAC title in 2017, but there is plenty of optimism for the 2018 season. The entire pitching staff is in line to return, and several key pieces in the lineup will return as well. Pegged as a relatively young team this year, experience should definitely be in favor of the Oaks next year.