SAN MATEO -- The College of San Mateo softball team steamrolled most of its opponents this season, so it was surprising to see them in a tight battle with San Joaquin Delta on Sunday in the California Community College Athletic Association Super Regionals.
Despite entering the bottom of the seventh inning down three runs, and three outs away from a loss and being forced to play an elimination game later in the day, the Bulldogs didn't quiver.
In dramatic and controversial fashion, CSM's offense woke up when it needed to and exploded for four runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to defeat Delta 7-6 and advance to next weekend's CCCAA State Championships in Bakersfield.
The top-seeded Bulldogs (42-2) will take on the South's No. 2 seed Mt. San Antonio College (37-8) Friday at 5:30 p.m. in the double-elimination championships.
"I told the team [after the top of the seventh], that we've been here before," CSM coach Nicole Borg said. "This team has so much heart and our bats did the job. [A] three-run deficit is nothing to us, and we were able to score there in the end."
CSM ace Ashlynne Neil, who entered the state playoffs with a 22-1 record, seven complete games and a 2.07 ERA -- started her third consecutive game and the workload caught up to her.
Delta's Rachel Greer-Smith blasted a 2-2 pitch over the center field wall for a three-run homer -- only the second Niel, the Coast Conference Pitcher of the Year, has given up all season -- giving the Mustangs a 6-3 lead in the top of the seventh inning.
But with an offense that leads the state in homers, hits, runs and runs batted in, who could blame the Bulldogs for not wilting?
The big hit in the final inning came with the bases loaded off the bat of sophomore Brooke Ramsey, out of Aragon High School. Ramsey, who leads the team with 14 home runs and entered the game hitting .510 -- lined the first pitch she saw off of Delta reliever Miranda Quesada into right field, narrowly landing past Greer-Smith's outstretched body. Ramsey wound up at third with a triple and all three runners scored to tie the game 6-6.
"I wasn't having a good game early, but bases were loaded and I worked for that moment," Ramsey said. "I was ready for that [at-bat]."
After Quesada intentionally walked the bases loaded, Taylor Cruse came up to the plate with one-out and grounded sharply to third. Delta's Katie Bentz made a diving stop to her left and threw a one-hopper to catcher Mia Ramirez. It appeared that Ramsey, who represented the winning run, was out, but the home-plate umpire ruled Ramsey safe and claimed Ramirez didn't have control of the ball when applying the force.
"I hesitated a little bit, but I started to go, and she made a good play on third, but I got my foot in there," Ramsey explained. "I got the little tip of my toe on that bag."
Delta coach Jim Fisher begged to differ.
"The umpire said [Mia] didn't have control of the ball before the runner had gotten [to home plate]," Fisher said. "Deep down inside, he knows he missed the call and put his stamp on this game."
On the strength of CSM's rally, Neil (24-1) got the win despite giving up an uncharacteristic 10 hits, along with six runs (four earned) while striking out three.
Still, none of that matters to Neil as her team is heading to the state finals.
"I'm not used to giving up the long ball, that's for sure," Neil said. "Something inside of me knew my teammates would come back. ... I feel so lucky."