If you are a fan and follow the Murrieta Mesa softball team on Game Changer, which is the official sports-based scoring app for high school baseball and softball teams, then the Rams leave no secrets out. Their entire lineup highlights the names of their players and the school’s they are committed to in college. Not a bad flex for the program that was ranked No. 1 out of the gate in the Cal-Hi Sports State softball rankings two weeks ago.

With an opening nonleague 7-2 win over Centennial, a 4-0 shutout against Vista Murrieta, and a commanding 18-4 win over Chaparral last week, the Rams welcomed Great Oak (0-4-1) this week, before heading out to the Dave Kops Memorial Tournament of Champions in Arizona for the weekend.

Clemson commit Madi Lardizabal (8) lays the tag down on Great Oak’s Sophia Tomeo after she was caught stealing in the top of the fifth inning of their recent Southwestern League matchup. Valley News/Andrez Imaging

While the ladies of Murrieta Mesa expect to be tested in Arizona, Great Oak also wanted in on the testing action this past Wednesday. The Wolfpack shared the league title with Murrieta Mesa last season, so this was definitely the game to be at for local softball fans.

Tony Romero, who is in his 12th season as the head coach for Murrieta Mesa, has seen the program literally climb from the bottom to the top and had told the media last week, that while the ranking was nice, it means nothing until there is something to play for at the end of the season. The 2017 season was a big year for the Rams who won a CIF Southern Section’s Division 3 championship that year, then won their first league championship in 2018, adding two more along the way, but that was then, and they are playing for the now.

Murrieta Mesa (3-0-1), who have been a powerhouse in Division 1 since 2018, return seven starters from last year’s team, and added an astounding coach in Wendy Allen-Hauser, who works with the pitchers. Allen-Hauser, who played collegiately at Ohio State and Arizona, graduated from Moreno Valley High School in 2000 and was one of the top players in Southern California during her time. Her daughter, Lily Hauser, and junior shortstop Madi Lardizabal, a transfer from Chino Hills, are two of the newest faces to the Rams lineup.

Murrieta Mesa’s Mikaylah Jones (39) gets welcomed to the plate after hitting a game tying homerun in the bottom of the seventh inning against Great Oak Wednesday, March 8. Valley News/Andrez Imaging

As a pitcher, Lily Hauser, a freshman, came into a tight game against Great Oak Wednesday, March 8, after Caylea Rains-Campbell (committed to Xavier Louisiana) got into some unusual trouble early in the game. Trailing 2-0 until the bottom of the seventh inning, the Rams never gave up, and the energy was off the charts from both sides. Until that point, Great Oak’s Miali Gauchino was having her way with Murrieta Mesa, shutting them down on offense, and picking up both runs, plating Samantha Young in two of her three at-bats on the day.

With her pitch count increasing, and daylight diminishing, Gauchino let up a leadoff double in the bottom of the seventh to Iowa State commit Victoria Prado, which sent the home crowd into a frenzy. Gauchino would get a strike out in the next at-bat, bringing Mikaylah Jones to the plate, who took a vicious hack with her first swing, a foul ball. Her next swing would be the one that took the wind out of Great Oak’s sails, sending a shot over the fence, tying the game at two runs apiece.

After a fly out by Taelyn Holley, Murrieta Mesa’s Jazzy Burns (Ohio State commit) drilled a base hit to center field, giving the Rams some added life, but that would be it as Gauchino would get Oregon State commit Paige Bambarger to go down looking for the final out.

Hauser, who came in to pitch in the fifth inning, toed the rubber again in extra innings. With the first batter grounding out and Gauchino on her way to drawing a walk with a 3-1 count, the umpires called the game due to darkness, and this game would end in a tie.

“Head Coach Ornelas said that it was determined to be a tie, so that is the final score,” Great Oak Athletic Director Herschel Ramirez said.

No further comments have been made by either team as to what could happen down the road with the standings, should a tie end up messing up the chance for either team to win a league title. For now, it’s a draw. Great Oak remains winless on the season and the Rams packed up their vans on Thursday, and headed for Bullhead City, Arizona.

Samantha Young comes in to score against Murrieta Mesa early in the game. Valley News/Andrez Imaging

Murrieta Mesa reached the title game of the 26th annual Tournament of Champions last season, falling 3-1 to Villa Park, which was the No. 1-ranked team in the nation at that time. The tournament showcases 60-70 of the top teams from around the country and was started by Mr. Kops in 1996 as a school fundraiser while he was Athletic Director at Mohave High School. Over the past 27 years the tournament has become one of the most prestigious tournaments on the west coast.

The 2023 Dave Kops Tournament of Champions took place Thursday, March 9, through Saturday, March 11, and while the Rams came swinging out of the gate with a 7-1 win over El Toro (Lake Forest, CA) and a 10-0 win over Douglas (Minden, NV), they would get sent to the consolation bracket when they lost 1-0 to Pacifica High School of Garden Grove. Murrieta Mesa wrapped up the weekend with wins over Orange Lutheran, 6-5, and Villa Park, 9-1. Norco won this year’s tournament, defeating Los Alamitos 13-8.

This week Murrieta Mesa will take on Murrieta Valley and Temecula Valley in league games, but mark your calendars for Monday, March 20, at Murrieta Mesa. That’s when a rescheduled showdown will take place against Beaumont, who have Texas-bound pitcher Cambria Salmon ready to take on the Rams. Salmon was the 2022 IE Varsity Player of the Year.

Great Oak will face Temescal Canyon in a non league bout this week, as well as Vista Murrieta in Southwestern League action.

JP Raineri can be reached by email at sports@reedermedia.com.