By Brandon HENSLEY
or the last win of the Falcons’ season, it was appropriate the seniors led the charge, as well their big star for next year.
No, Crescenta Valley High School softball didn’t live up to all of the expectations going into the 2014 season. The team was expected to compete with Burbank for a Pacific League championship. Instead, the girls finished 16-13 overall and 8-6 in league, good for fourth place.
The team also wanted a better regular season so they wouldn’t have to travel so far for a first-round playoff game this week. But that’s what happened, as the Falcons went way up north to Santa Maria and lost to Righetti High School 5-0 on Tuesday.
It was the last game for seniors Hannah Cookson, Taylor Hill, Chloe Fairbrother and Olivia Thayer, all who have been a part of a very changing program since they arrived as freshman, which includes the death of longtime Coach Dan Berry and multiple head and assistant coaching changes.
“I’m disappointed that we could have been a little better in league,” said Coach John Pehar, who replaced Mark Samford last summer. “It didn’t work as well as we hoped. But the girls … these last few years have been tough. They’ve come together, they’re having fun together, and that’s just as important in building a team for the future.”
The future, for one more year, is Hailey Cookson, Hannah’s younger sister. She can also be described as the past and present, having put together a stellar varsity career so far. But the junior showed a glimpse of what she can be more of during the Falcons’ wild card playoff game on Monday, a 6-3 home victory over the Sonora Raiders.
Hailey smacked a home run to lead off the bottom of the first inning, and homered again with a runner on in the fifth to break open a tight game.
Hailey said she had been taking good batting practice, but, “I didn’t think that I was going to do it in a game, but it happened. It was exciting.”
She’s not known for her power, but Pehar said after the game he wasn’t surprised by her performance.
“No, no, she’s quite capable,” he said. “She’s got one of the hottest bats in league and she’s our top hitter this year. She’s only had two strikeouts the whole season.”
According to team stats on the last week of the season, Hailey was batting .589. She was first on the team with three triples and second in doubles with 10, behind Hill’s 11. She said she was surprised by the leadoff home run on Monday.
“I like to hit line drives. The first one was a line drive. I didn’t know if it was going over, but I looked up and it was over.”
Hill also collected an RBI with a line drive single in the first, and sophomore Sydney Wells’ pop-fly single drove the third run of the inning.
Thayer, who will play at Occidental College next year, ran into some trouble as the game progressed, but showed why she’s been one of the league’s best pitchers for several years. She gave up a double and hit a batter, which led to two runs in the fourth. In the fifth, seemingly every ball was hit hard and another run scored, making it 4-3.
But Thayer bounced back for a perfect sixth inning and with two on and two out in the seventh, induced a ground ball from Audrey Castro back to the circle to end the game.
Of course, without Hannah, the fifth inning could have been much worse. Not only is Hannah (13 home runs, .535 average) one of the best hitters in the area, she didn’t make an error in centerfield all season. In the fifth, she gunned down a runner at home on a base hit, and to end the frame she made a shoestring catch on Taylor Clark’s sinking line drive that left her sister impressed.
“Her dive … I wish I could dive like her,” Hailey said. “I’m an awkward person but she makes it seem so easy.”
Hannah, who is headed to Long Beach State in the fall, also collected three hits and drew a walk, making it reminiscent of her performance against Arcadia last month. In that game, a 3-1 CV win, she hit a home run and made two gorgeous plays in the field, one a sprawling catch and another one on the run to end an Apache threat.
At shortstop, Hailey’s a smooth fielder herself. Her range is impressive as well as how fast she gets the ball out of her glove to get the runner at first. Combine her glove skills with (maybe?) her new-found power at the plate, and Falcon fans and parents can expect big things from her next year.
“From freshman year to now I’ve definitely gotten bigger. I’m stronger,” she said.
There were several bumps in the road late in the season, including losses to Glendale and Arcadia that made players wonder if they would even make the playoffs. But they did, and managed to win a postseason game for the first time since 2009.
All season long, many players talked about how good the chemistry was with one another, and in the end that’s probably what most of them will remember.
“I feel like we’re better than last year, but we also got really close and that helped us,” Hailey said. “Our friendship was better … I love these girls.”