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November 04, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, November 04, 2005

Three-peat for Graham softball Three-peat for Graham softball (November 04, 2005)

Girls pick up third title in three years -- on a triple play

By Scott Campbell

It was a special ending for a special team. Taking the field with the lead in the sixth and final inning of the championship game, Graham Middle School's 8th-grade softball team turned a triple play to begin a title celebration. Again.

The Bears' 11-3 victory over Columbia Middle School on Oct. 13 marked the third consecutive year the team won the Valley Junior High School Athletic League Championship.

Graham won the 2003 title with a core of 6th graders competing in the 7th grade league. That squad went a perfect 12-0.

In 2004, with a full team of 7th graders, the Bears (11-0) again went undefeated to win the 7th-grade championship.

This year, Graham (11-1) finally suffered a loss in the 8th-grade league, but nevertheless ran the table in the playoffs to complete its three-peat.

"I had to hold them back," Bears coach Cathy DiLeonardo said of her players. "I almost felt bad, they were so good."

Graham outscored its opponents by a combined score of 157-15 in 2005, a margin that could have been much more dramatic if not for the mercy rules geared to slow down powerhouses like the Bears.

After a mid-season 3-1 loss to Cupertino Middle School, a defeat that ended Graham's 29-game winning streak, the Bears decided that losing wasn't for them.

The determined Bears walloped Blach Intermediate School 12-0 in the first round of the playoffs to earn a rematch with Cupertino.

This time Graham was ready. With the score tied 2-2 in the fifth inning, Bears catcher Karina Muranaga hit a three-run double to vault Graham to a 5-2 victory. Pitcher Victoria Hayward notched the complete game as the Bears advanced to the championship game.

Having survived what DiLeonardo termed "a very tight game" in the Cupertino semifinal, Graham cruised against Columbia.

Pitchers Hayward and McColl Matthews held Columbia to a harmless assortment of singles and walks while the deep Bears offense showed its might.

Hayward led the 15-hit assault with three hits, while Felicia Baldwin, Christine Bitler and Matthews each recorded two hits.

It was fitting that Graham completed its three-peat with an occurrence as rare as a triple play.

With Columbia building a last-inning rally with runners on first and third with no outs, McColl caught a line-drive smash and threw to third baseman Bitler to double off the lead runner. Bitler then threw across the diamond to Baldwin at first base to catch the other runner, who had been running to second.

And with that, an era ended just as it had started: with Graham on top.

"They were utterly amazing," said DiLeonardo. "Just wait 'til this group gets to high school."

E-mail Scott Campbell at [email protected]

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