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Alvarado is La Mirada’s secret weapon for winning Suburban League title

By Loren Kopff

When La Mirada softball head coach Richard Trujillo scouted Cerritos for the first time this season on Apr. 27 against Norwalk, he hinted that he could have a secret weapon when his Matadores played Cerritos. Trujillo stuck to his word as La Mirada paid a visit to Cerritos this past Tuesday with the Suburban League championship at stake.
That secret weapon was freshman pitcher Valerie Alvarado and she was just as hot as the weather was on this early May Southern California day. Alvarado pitched eight and two-thirds innings and struck out 16 of the 34 batters she faced as the Matadores snuck past Cerritos 3-1 in 11 innings. After watching Cerritos and Mayfair share the league title last season, the Matadores reclaimed what had been theirs outright from 2001-2008. La Mirada, the eighth ranked team in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division II poll, improved to 20-7 overall and 11-0 in the league.
Trujillo replaced senior Ambar Hickman with Alvarado with one out in the bottom of third following a walk to sophomore designated player Lilianna Herrera. Alvarado would strike out two of the three batters she faced in the frame as well as two in each of the next three innings. She fanned three in the seventh and eighth innings and never allowed a Cerritos runner to reach third base during her time in the circle.
“Whether you see her or not, she’s effective,” Trujillo said. “And that makes Ambar that much more effective. We still haven’t counted [senior] Jenevie Rivas out but when they’re not touching Val, why change?”
Cerritos head coach Bob Medina countered with his freshman sensation, Jennifer Iseri, whom Trujillo did not see in the aforementioned Cerritos-Norwalk game. Iseri struggled in the top of the first, walking senior left fielder Mylee Macahilig to lead off the game. Following a strikeout, Iseri threw 10 straight balls to load the bases and eventually surrendered a run scoring hit to junior shortstop Mercedes Gasparovic. After that, Iseri settled down a bit and retired nine straight and did not allow anyone to get beyond second until the seventh.
Cerritos, ranked one spot ahead of La Mirada in the division, also had its chances to score early as Hickman walked senior center fielder Sarah Smith in the first and yielded an infield hit to Herrera. But Hickman regrouped and sat down the next six before giving up a double to Smith in the third. Then, Iseri drove in Smith with a base hit to tie the game and after the walk to Herrera, it was the Alvarado show.
The recent junior varsity call-up baffled the hot-hitting Lady Dons and forced them to chase at pitches outside the strike zone. Alvarado reached a three-ball count three times before extra innings, but only walking freshman catcher Heather Cameron during that time. Cerritos (18-5, 9-2) had a chance to get to Alvarado immediately after replacing Hickman as junior first baseman Miki Okazaki was safe on an infield hit to load the bases. But Alvarado ended that threat by recording her first strikeout.
“We didn’t execute,” Medina said. “We should have executed. We probably had plenty of opportunities. It was a matter of time. If you don’t execute after four opportunities, then what do you do? The odds of you winning are less and less.”
In the top of the seventh, the Matadores loaded the bases following consecutive singles from sophomore pinch hitter Stephanie Baro and Hickman. But Iseri induced Macahilig to fly out to freshman left fielder Madison Lee.
Cerritos had two more chances to score the game-winner, the first coming in the eighth when Lee led off with a single and two outs later, advanced on a base hit from senior right fielder Alex Avila. The other came in the 10th when Okazaki reached on a fielder’s choice and junior shortstop Erin Clinton was safe on an error. But Avila flew out to center to continue the game. Alvarado scattered five hits, walked two and threw 130 pitches.
“I think she did a great job,” Medina said. “We told our girls to stay off the high pitch. She had 62 high pitches and 42 inside pitches. With the kids being young, we need a little more experience I believe. The girls were swinging at the high stuff and we shouldn’t have.”
La Mirada finally got to Iseri in the 11th when Gasparovic bunted up the first base line and senior first baseman Rochelle Sablay singled to left. After junior third baseman Lindsey Cole sacrificed both of them, Rice sent a deep fly to the right field foul territory that was caught, allowing Gasparovic to come home. Two pitches later, Sablay scored the insurance run. Iseri went the distance, striking out seven and throwing 167 pitches. Medina said that he had no intentions of making a pitching change at any time.
“Jen was going to go the whole game,” Medina said. “Even in the first inning, I said, ‘you’re not coming out’. If we went 28 innings, she was going to go 28 innings. We were going to win or lose with her. The thing is, she’s the one they’re going to battle against next year and she’ll know it.”
“Nothing we saw surprised us and nothing that we’re going to see is surprising to us because we’ve played the best,” Trujillo said. “We’re ready. A win like this is big and a loss for Cerritos like this is big for them because that’s going to give them something to carry into the playoffs.”
Sablay went three for four while Gasparovic went two for five. The top four in La Mirada’s lineup went a combined one for 17. Meanwhile, the only one who could get to Alvarado was Smith, the Baylor University signee, who had two of her three hits off the reliever. Five other players accounted for the other five hits from Cerritos and every batter struck out at least once.
“Sarah is good; there’s no doubt about it,” Trujillo said. “But top to bottom we had better hitters. We deserved to be in first place. We deserved this Suburban League championship and from the looks of it, we’re not going to be any weaker next year either.”
This was the longest Suburban League game for Cerritos in at least 15 years and the longest since May 21, 2003 when the Lady Dons lost to Downey 8-3 in 11 innings in a wild card playoff game. Before that, Cerritos had played in an 11-inning game at Chaminade and a 13-inning affair against Corona, both in 2000. In 1999, Cerritos and Corona went 16 innings in the Inland Empire. All three of those long extra inning games before 2003 were shutout wins by Cerritos.
With Alvarado and Iseri showing they could go long distances, the next six league meetings between these two teams should prove to be among the best games of the Southern Section, as well as the league. Although the Matadores lose eight seniors, they simply reload every year. Cerritos, which has seven freshmen this season, will lose four to graduation.
“With two freshmen out there [today], this is going to be a hell of a battle for the next three years,” Trujillo said. “But [Cerritos] hung in there. They had some chances and we squandered a few but I think just the maturity…the seniors have been here before. I think we took advantage of the miscues on Cerritos’ part.”
“I think that’s awesome,” Medina said of the future of the two freshmen pitchers. “I really do because I wish every team [in league] gets a quality pitcher like Alvarado. They’re going to be hard to beat. We’re a good hitting team. We’re a good, solid team. We just didn’t stay off the high stuff. We weren’t disciplined at the plate like we wanted.”

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