By Zach Cavanagh

SAN CLEMENTE – The San Clemente softball team came into Tuesday with a shot at the league title, but the Tritons left the field against Laguna Hills in third place.

Laguna Hills broke a 1-1 tied in the fifth inning with a RBI single and a three-run home run to defeat San Clemente, 5-1, deny the Tritons the league title and leapfrog into second place in a South Coast League game at San Clemente High School.

Aliso Niguel (18-7, 6-2) claimed the league title with San Clemente’s loss. San Clemente (12-9, 5-3) could have earned at least a share of the league title with a win, but Laguna Hills (14-7, 5-3) swept the season series to put the Tritons in third. All three teams earned CIF-SS playoff bids with San Clemente slotted in Division 2. Playoff brackets will be released on Monday, May 14.

San Clemente had won three in a row, including a win over Aliso Niguel, to even have the opportunity to win the league title. It’s a late run that has the Tritons in the right mindset for next week’s playoffs.

“It gives them confidence they can move on,” San Clemente coach Bill Malcolm said. “That’s what’s important. I’ve always known they can do it, but it’s whether they believe they can do it.”

San Clemente had chances to change the entire complexion of the game in the early innings.

The Tritons loaded the bases with two outs in the first inning but struck out looking to end the frame. Again with two outs, the Tritons put two runners on in the second inning but grounded out to the pitcher.

Laguna Hills scored the game’s first run in the third inning with a two-out RBI single.

San Clemente answered right back in the bottom of the third as junior Sydney Kowalski launched a solo home run to straightaway center field.

Things came undone for the Tritons in the fifth.

Laguna Hills led off with a single and followed up with a double off the glove of the San Clemente third baseman trying to make a strong play. A one-out single sent the runners in motion, and while the Tritons tried to stop Laguna Hills from advancing with a throw to second and a throw back to first, the Hawks runner scored from third to break the tie.

The next Laguna Hills batter sent a high ball to left-center field that carried over the fence for a three-run home run and the 5-1 lead.

San Clemente only put on three baserunners in the final three innings as Laguna Hills closed out the win.

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