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Cerritos High School Softball seeking first outright league title in a dozen years

By Loren Kopff

It seemed like yesterday when Nichole Maddox slammed a two-run home run in the top of the seventh inning against host Thousand Oaks to send the Cerritos softball team into the California Interscho­lastic Federation-Southern Section Divi­sion II finals for the third straight season. But that happened on May 30, 2000.

And it seemed like yesterday when Jessica van der Linden was fighting off a pulled rib cage injury to pitch brilliantly against Corona in the championship game, giving up three hits and striking out seven as the Lady Dons won their second straight title, a 4-1 decision. But that occurred on June 3, 2000.

While Cerritos has aspirations of an­other CIF title, it is very much in the run­ning for its first outright Suburban League crown since that historic 2000 season when the team went 31-2. Cerritos, the seventh ranked team in the Division II top 10 poll, will host 10th ranked La Mirada on Tues­day and wrap up the regular season at La Mirada on Thursday with the league title at stake. Cerritos has not swept the Matadors since, you guessed it, 2000. The Lady Dons have also not won on La Mirada’s field since that same season.

Cerritos took a week off from league action this past week while Mayfair and La Mirada were facing each other. Enter­ing this past week, La Mirada was 8-0 in the circuit followed by Cerritos (9-1) and Mayfair (7-1). The Lady Dons, who were 17-3 overall following a sweep of Norwalk last week and a victory over Rancho Alam­itos in the Loara Tournament last Saturday, had a doubleheader against St. Joseph this past Wednesday.

“For us, it’s a plus because we were able to schedule some later games, and then we couldn’t have gotten any better with the tournament being rained out and pushed back one week,” said Cerritos head coach Bob Medina. “Always on an off week, it’s very easy to lose focus or concentration. But we have a lot of games in between. No matter what, we have third place [at least], so we’re good. We just want to be able to be ready. We want to play competitive soft­ball.”

The 2000 and 2012 teams are some­what similar, especially in the talent depart­ment, but there are several disparities. The one that stands out immediately is in the hitting department where the 2000 Lady Dons batted only .230 in the regular sea­son. However, that team was built around stellar pitching, highlighted by Jessica van der Linden, who had an earned run average of 0.17 in the regular season and struck out 293 batters. She also led the team with a .379 batting average. Offensively, Cerritos was doing it with the small ball as it had 46 sacrifices and scored in double figures only twice. It was involved in 10 one-run games and eight two-run games.

This season’s squad is ripping the cover off the ball thus far to the tune of a .390 average as 14 of the 17 players are batting at least .320. Three games have been de­cided by one run and the team has reached at least 10 runs nine times. This season’s team is built around youth with seven freshmen, along with four seniors while the championship team had nine seniors and no freshmen.

“Almost every single one of them, I know who they are,” Medina said of the 2000 team. “I have a lot of respect for them. Their names are still up on the wall inside our storage bin and I don’t plan on ever taking it down. To the community, they brought a whole bunch of good things and good softball competitiveness. They dedi­cated their time to represent the school. I do remember it well.”

While Medina says the strength this year has been with the hitting, the pitching duo of junior Kaylilani Minami, last sea­son’s league and Los Cerritos Community News All-Area Pitcher of the Year, and freshman Jennifer Iseri have combined to win 15 games and fan 142 batters. While their combined three shutouts doesn’t com­pare to the 17 that were thrown in 2000, those two alone are just as valuable as van der Linden was.

“If I didn’t have a pitcher, we would probably not do as well as we are,” Medina said. “But I believe the strength is a combi­nation of things. I think right now I could say hitting because we really focus on it all the time. People know that and we put a lot of numbers on the board. If we’re down by five, we’ll still probably come back and win. We have the opportunity if the innings allow us.”

Iseri is picking up where Minami left off last season, posting 11 victories in 13 decisions with an ERA of 1.78.

“Every year I see her maturing,” Medi­na said. “One day she’s going to be a great leader for this team and this program. With Kaylilani, you can’t say too much. She’s very solid. She keeps everything together. She’s a good mentor for Jen and Jen is learning everyday as a freshman.”

The catching duo of freshmen Heather Cameron and Madison Lee sometimes do not play like freshmen. Cameron (.323) has started 14 games behind the dish while Lee (.356) tops the team with 73 at-bats.

“Both of them have strong arms and a great ability to block like upperclassmen,” Medina said. “They have good sense of what they want to do.”

The infield is the most experienced the program has seen in a few years with se­niors Drianna Drulias and Alyssa Marquez at second and third respectively and juniors Erin Clinton and Miki Okazaki at short and first respectively. Those four have com­bined to start 61 games at their respec­tive positions. Of those four, only Drulias doesn’t factor into the hitting equation but makes up with her solid defense. Sopho­more Lilianna Herrera has mostly hit for Drulias as the designated player.

“Her hitting numbers were down the past couple of years but I asked her to do me a big, giant favor having Lilianna go down getting hurt,” Medina remembers. “It was a two for one deal. I put Dri in there [at second]. You have an upperclassman that isn’t going to get flustered and she’s play­ing a fabulous defense. She knows where to go; she knows what to do. She’s doing her job. She’s doing probably more than we can ask anybody to do. How valuable is Drianna Drulias? Very. We probably would have lost 10 games if she wasn’t there. She’s that important.”

Finally, senior and Baylor University-bound Sarah Smith anchors the outfield in her customary centerfield spot and has been a great tutor to Lee in left field, when she’s not catching, and any of the 10 differ­ent players who have started in right field, none with more than five starts.

“We’re going to miss her big time,” Medina said. “I wish her all the luck at Baylor. She has been making phenomenal plays. She’s making catches that nobody else can make and that’s why she’s going to [Baylor]. Like I said, you get a mentor and [others] want to be like her. Everyday she’s out there; she has the opportunity to talk to them. We put her in charge. She’s a very good role model for the kids. We’re going to get a bunch of great outfielders to follow in her footsteps because of her.”

When Cerritos meets La Mirada on Tuesday, it will be a game up in the stand­ings, tied with the Matadores or a game behind. Last season, Cerritos and Mayfair were co-league champions at 10-2 while La Mirada went 9-3. This is the first time Cerritos and La Mirada have faced each other in the final week of the regular sea­son since the league went to the home and home weekly format in 2006.

“Going into playoffs, I think it would give us that strive and that high,” Medina said of winning a league title. “All you have to do is win five games and you [win a CIF championship]. It’s not always the best team who wins. It’s the one who gets hot at that moment. I don’t think the kids get the respect out there that we are that good. I believe everybody fears us, but I don’t think they give us the respect of what we stand for.”

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