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Petrolia pitches in again to guide Foothill to title

By the time the Village People’s “YMCA” blared from the loudspeakers at Bishop Gorman after the sixth inning on Saturday, it was obvious which softball team was about to win a regional title.

Foothill’s fans sprung to their feet, flung their hands into the air and sung the words, while the Liberty stands were conspicuously silent.

Junior pitcher Alex Petrolia clearly was in charge, and she finished her performance on a strong note to lead the second-seeded Falcons to a surprisingly easy 8-2 victory over the fourth-seeded Patriots in the Sunrise Region tournament’s championship game.

The win lifted the Falcons (22-11) into the state tournament, where they will open with a 2 p.m. game Friday at UNLV. Liberty (22-12) will face Centennial in a 3:30 p.m. play-in game Monday at Gorman to determine the final state tourney berth.

Petrolia and Patriots starter Francesca Foti each entered the championship game having pitched 35 innings in five days. That included complete-game performances by both in Saturday’s early game, which Foothill won 5-3 to force a championship showdown.

“Both teams were going to throw who they felt was the pitcher who got us here,” Foothill coach Tom Mayes said. “I knew we probably weren’t going to yank Alex. We asked her how her arm felt, and she said it was OK.

“She’s smart enough that she would have said something if she was having problems.”

There never was a need to consider such a dilemma, as Foothill responded to Liberty’s first-inning unearned run with an RBI single by Rhiana Balaun to make it 1-1 in the bottom of the inning.

Gabby Canibeyaz ripped a two-run single into right-center field to cap the Falcons’ four-hit second inning, giving them a 3-1 lead. The Patriots never answered.

“I live for this kind of game,” said Petrolia, who limited Liberty to six hits. “This is the game you play 20 games just to get to.”

Foti, however, appeared vulnerable throughout the day, despite her team’s bye on Friday. The Falcons finally knocked her out of the game with a four-run fourth inning, highlighted by Chelsi Stewart’s RBI double that extended the lead to 7-1.

Mayes said his team’s timely hitting was another key to the win.

“I think hitting made a big difference,” he said. “Before, we haven’t hit well against (Liberty), but today we came out swinging.”

Lauren Penksa went 2-for-2 with two doubles and a walk to lead Foothill’s 12-hit attack. Canibeyaz went 2-for-3 with three RBIs.

Megan Patras had two hits for Liberty.

■ Foothill 5, Liberty 3 — Petrolia tossed a six-hitter to help the Falcons force the decisive game.

Foothill scored in each of the first four innings, going ahead 5-0 on Stewart’s RBI single in the fourth.

The Patriots battled back and cut their deficit to 5-3 on a two-run double by Diana Cassaro in the sixth inning before stranding two runners in the bottom of the seventh.

Canibeyaz and Petrolia each went 3-for-4.

Patras and Foti went 2-for-3 to lead Liberty.

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