Fast Start Sparks San Marcos Softball to CIF Semifinal Victory, Return to Finals

Megan Cunnison starts game with homer; Royals bang out 14 hits in 7-3 win at fourth-seeded Royal

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The San Marcos softball team is headed back to the CIF-SS Division 4 final for the second straight year. (Phil Alliano photo)

In recent games, it’s taken the San Marcos softball team a few innings before its bats came alive.

There would be no slow start to the offense in Tuesday’s CIF-SS Division 4 softball semifinal at Royal in Simi Valley.

Lead-off hitter Megan Cunnison started the game with a home run and the Fryklund sisters — Allie and Hailey — kept the attack going by combining for six of the Royals’ 14 hits in an decisive 7-3 victory that puts San Marcos in the division championship game for the second straight year.

Santa Fe upset second-seeded Sonora, 3-2, in the other semifinal.

The San Marcos bats were on fire from start to finish against fourth-seeded Royal. Cunnison blasted a Hannah Sattler pitch over the left-field fence to get the Royals going.

Two outs later, freshman Allie Fryklund belted a double to the right-center field fence and Morgan Jensen followed with a RBI double into the left-field corner for a 2-0 lead.

“That was a huge lift us,” San Marcos coach Jeff Swann said of Cunnison’s lead-off homer. “We wait till the fourth inning usually. The second time through the order, that’s when things start to happen.

“We get that spark right away, now we’re going to cruise.  I was super confident we were going to get 10 hits or so. I knew if we did what should do, there would be no problems for us.”

Said Cunnison of her homer and fast start: “I was up there and I saw a pitch I liked, and here we go. It started a spark and the fuel started going, and our team started getting louder in the dugout. The girls who came up after me started getting hits.”

Allie Fryklund said the hitting was “both contagious and we were all cheering for each other nonstop. We were all supporting each other. It was just a great day.

Hailey Fryklund said Cunnison’s blast helped relax team.

“She’s come on so big in CIF,” Fryklund said. “She’s such a great hitter. She really hyped us up and I think she squashed all the nerves with that hit. After that everyone was hitting. It was huge for her and us.”

Pitcher Aliyah Huerta-Leipner was grateful for the early lead Cunnison and her teammates provided.

“It’s so awesome to start off ahead, but it also got the team super fired up and we just went up from there,” she said. “It’s really cool to see us come out hitting hard and swinging. It upped our spirits.”

Hailey Fryklund, who was making her playoff debut after recovering from an ankle injury, started the second inning with a double, advanced to third on Paige Powell’s sacrifice and scored on a single by Kyla Robbins to make it 3-0.

Royal got a run back in the bottom of the second when Kaylee Escutia blasted the first of her two solo homers.

The homer didn’t faze Huerta-Leipner. She retired 14 of the next 15 batters she faced.

San Marcos capitalized on two-out walks to Robbins and Cunnison to score a run in the fourth. Savannah Tait singled to bring home Robbins, increasing the lead to 4-1.

Allie Fryklund ignited a two-run fifth inning with a lead-off homer to left. Sattler retired the next two batters before Hailey Fryklund, Powell and Robbins hit consecutive singles for a run to put the Royals ahead 6-1. Robbins picked up her second RBI.

“I try to be aggressive but calm so I’m not trying to kill the ball and that usually works for me,” Allie Fryklund said of her hitting.

As for the homer,  “I usually feel when I’m going to hit it over the fence,” she said.

Allie Fryklund was excited to see her sister back in the lineup.

“It was so great to see her come out here and play really well,” she said.

Hailey Fryklund played solid at third base and showed no signs of the injured ankle.

“It’s so nice,” she said of being back in the lineup. “I’m so excited for the (championship) game — we’re all really excited to go into it. We kind of know what to expect. We kind of have the home field advantage a little bit because we’ve been there before. I’m super excited and I want to get the win. I want to get first place.”

After a walk to Cunnison loaded the bases, Tait nearly broke the game wide open in the sixth, crushing a ball into the left-field corner. But Royal left fielder Whitney Payton robbed Tait by making a terrific running catch for the third out.

San Marcos went up 7-1 in the seventh as Hailey Fryklund collected her third hit of the game, Powell followed with a single and Robbins was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Cunnison drew a walk to bring home Fryklund.

Savannah Tait singles home Kyla Robbins for a 4–1 San Marcos lead in top of 4th of CIF semifinal at Royal

Royal threatened in the bottom of the seventh. Escutia walloped a homer to left and the Highlanders put two runners on with two outs. Ashley Ha singled in a run before Huerta-Leipner retired Alexa Landeros on a grounder to Tait at shortstop to end the game.

The Royals celebrated but didn’t go crazy after the game, a indication they still have business to take care of in the finals. They lost in last year’s title game to Channel League rival Buena.

Allie Fryklund said getting back to the finals was a goal for the returning players.

“I know it was for them, they all talk about it all the time,” she said.

Said Huerta-Leipner, who allowed five hits in earning her fourth playoff pitching win: “We didn’t celebrate as much as last year when we went to the finals. It was like: ‘OK, on to the next game.’ We got to be focused.”

Swann wasn’t surprised by the subdued celebration.

“They know and they’re primed for that,” he said of playing for the championship. ‘They have that mindset. They’re excited but they have that expectation. It was sort of an unspoken expectation We knew we could go all the way but we really didn’t talk about it a lot. We didn’t want to jinx ourselves. We focus on doing the things on the field: hitting, running, fielding. We worked on those things and the wins come as a result of that.

“I’m super excited,” he added. “I’m super proud how they played today. It was amazing.”

— Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.