Virtual neighborhood rivals from California played each other three times yesterday before deciding the 18th Amateur Softball Association Junior Olympic Under-18 women's national fast-pitch championship.
The Raiders of Santa Monica won their eighth championship in 10 years by downing the Batbusters of Orange County, 4-1, before 3,000 at Cedar Lane Park in Columbia.
The Raiders -- who won seven straight national titles from 1982-88 -- took the tournament's 139th game behind the four-hit pitching of left-hander Cheryl Longeway. She struck out one, the final batter, and walked none and was in such command that 18 of the 21 outs were recorded in the infield.
The relative ease of the final belied the strong challenge mounted by the Batbusters.
Knocked into the losers' bracket with a 6-0 loss to the Raiders yesterday morning, they beat the Pirettes of Valencia, Calif., 4-2. The Pirettes had extended the Batbusters to 16 innings before losing, 3-2, Saturday night.
The Batbusters forced yesterday's third game with a 2-0 two-hitter from Pacific University freshman Lea Lopez.
California teams took the first six places in the 35-state, 70-team field.
"They play one sport and only one sport. They concentrate on softball and play it 12 months a year," said Tom Conley, coach of Glen Burnie's Tangerine Machine, one of the four Maryland entries that exceeded expectations by combining for five victories.
Wagner's and Jade Garden, both of Glen Burnie, were each 2-2. The Lewistown Tiger Paws of Frederick County were 1-1. Tangerine Machine lost both of its games, 5-4 and 1-0.
Conley said that California was far and away the class of the tournament.
"We can compete with them. We can beat them in a game. But over the long haul of a tournament, they'll be there," he said. "When kids play a sport all the time, they'll be ahead of you."
Lynn Pitonzo, who has coached Northeast to seven of the past 10 Maryland Class 2A titles -- including four in a row -- concurred.
"Practicing and playing 365 days a year makes all the difference. Then, there's the size of those kids, their quickness in the field, their good arms and good bat control -- gosh!" she said.
Add a little luck, and the physically imposing Raiders showed a bit of everything in quickly taking control of the final. They capitalized on two Batbusters errors for two unearned runs in the first inning, then added two in the fourth on RBI singles by Longeway and pinch hitter Mickey Magnen.
The Batbusters got a run in the third when Bev Stiglbauer led off with a triple and scored on a fielder's choice. But Longeway, who kept her pitches low and away throughout, retired 14 of the final 17 batters and did not allow a runner past first base.