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Cameron, Iseri clicking on all friendly cylinders for Lady Dons softball

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Jennifer Iseri (left), Heather Cameron (right)

 

By Loren Kopff

 

They have different last names and they have their own set of parents but if you call Heather Cameron and Jennifer Iseri sisters, they won’t mind. Truth be told, they are much more like sisters than best friends and have been a key force in the success of the Cerritos High softball team this season.

Not only are they the best of friends to each other, Cameron and Iseri are the batterymates for the Lady Dons who will try to win a Suburban League championship when they travel to longtime nemesis La Mirada on Tuesday and host the Matadores on Thursday to conclude the regular season.

Cameron, a junior catcher, and Iseri, also a junior and the ace of the pitching staff, met for the first time when they were seven years old but played against each other in the Cerritos Girls Softball Association. That season, they weren’t picked as all-stars but all of that changed in the next season.

“When we were younger, we didn’t get along,” Iseri said. “It’s funny because I was actually really mean to her. There was no bond.”

The dynamic duo first became best friends as first-year 12-Under players when both played for the Artesia Punishers travel ball team. They recalled that they had to stick together as the two youngest girls on a team with older girls. Since then, they have played on every travel ball team together.

“We were the same age so we kind of had the same personality,” Cameron said. “We were just so stupid. We did stupid stuff together; we were just crazy together. We always had a good time and always laughed. There was not a time when we weren’t laughing. We just had a good personality click.”

As the years went on, both of them grew closer and closer as friends and were around each other roughly 95 percent of the time. Cameron said that now, both of them have a competitive relationship and they push each other to bring out the best in each other.

“I think what I liked is how she puts everyone before herself,” Iseri said. “We have the same personalities but we’re very different in many ways. I feel like I learn a lot from her being that she’s so giving. I think that helped me to strive to become a better person.”

As a freshman, Iseri batted a blistering .467, second behind current Baylor University standout Sarah Smith whom she tied for the team lead in home runs (four). Iseri also drew 12 walks, most on the team. In the circle, she was 12-4 with a 1.58 earned run average and struck out 132 batters.

That same season, Cameron batted .289 and scored 19 runs, tied for second behind Smith. But last season, their numbers would change. Cameron would lead the team in average (.381), hits (24), runs (21), runs batted in (15), doubles (five), walks (17) and stolen bases (six).

Iseri, on the other hand, missed a good chunk of the season because of an injury five games in. She missed the next 16 games while junior Melanie Okazaki filled in. Iseri returned to action on the last day of the regular season and pitched in Cerritos’ two playoff games. She won three of her five decisions and had an ERA of 0.91 while striking out 35 in almost 31 innings of work.

“Emotionally, I was just pissed,” Cameron said of last season. “I love catching Melanie but when you don’t have your No. 1 there and you’re used to catching your No. 1 and you’re used to balling up with them all the time, it’s just rough changing. And high school is really important to me and it’s important to her too.”

“That was rough,” Iseri remembered. “Knowing my personality, I really wanted to get back into it as soon as possible. I tried to take groundballs as soon as I could, which probably wasn’t the smartest thing. It took a lot of people to get me back into reality and look at the bigger picture.”

It’s that special connection in softball, as well as baseball, that only pitchers and catchers can understand. Cerritos first-year head coach Mike Freeman, who saw them for the first time four years ago, was immediately impressed with how hard they worked and was equally impressed with Iseri’s knowledge of the game. He even went as far as to say that she could coach this season’s team if he wasn’t the head coach and in fact she helps him coach occasionally.

“I think it’s key,” Freeman said of the connection between any battery. “The catcher has to understand her pitcher as far as that pitcher’s mechanics. You should be able to pick up on mechanics and stuff like that where you can take a time out and correct her. That’s why I pretty much keep them together-Heather catching Jen-because I do think they have that rapport together.

“I appreciate those two, I really do, because the pitcher-catcher combination can make or break your team,” Freeman later said. “I think we are where we are because of that combination.”

Entering this past Wednesday’s game at Norwalk, Iseri was back to her freshman ways, leading the team with a .559 average, 33 hits, 25 runs scored, 13 doubles and four home runs. Iseri has driven in 19 runs, good for second, and is 12-3 in the circle.

The friendship between Cameron and Iseri, which has even been extended to their parents-Craig and Danielle Cameron and Brian and Sharon Iseri, will continue to grow in the fall of 2015 when they will be attending the University of Hawai’i. In June of 2012, while at a Junior Olympic Tournament in Las Vegas, UH head coach Bob Coolen made them an offer to verbal to the school at the same time. The two young ladies went to their respective families, made their decisions on their own, then told Coolen at the same time on a three-way phone conversation.

For Iseri, Hawai’i has been a second home and has always been preached to go somewhere where you know you’re going to be able to live for four years and feel comfortable. She said she feels safe in Hawai’i and a lot of her family and relatives haven’t been able to see her play in the states. That was a big factor in choosing the University of Hawai’i.

Cameron has been e-mailing UH since the seventh grade and said her top choice for going there is her strong interest in biology and marine biology. Both admitted that they would have still gone to UH is the other one didn’t.

”Who doesn’t want to go to Hawai’i,” she asked. “And her family is my family. I’m going to have people out there with me because her family is so caring for me and they’ve brought me in.”

The last time Cerritos (17-3 overall, 8-1 in league) won the league was the season before Cameron and Iseri entered high school. That was also the last time the Lady Dons defeated La Mirada, a 2-0 decision at home. Three of the last four meetings have gone at least nine innings with two being 5-4 scores. It goes without saying that winning a league title has been on the minds of Cameron, Iseri and the rest of the team.

“It’s very important; it means a lot to us because I want to win,” Cameron said. “I want our team to do good and I want to represent Cerritos and I want to accomplish something with my Ohana.”
“I feel that we’re more than capable and I feel that for how hard we’ve worked, we deserve nothing less,” Iseri said. “I believe in every single one of the girls as well as myself to come through. If we do anything less, I feel like it would be a little bit of a disappointment.”

With Mayfair posting a walk-off win against La Mirada this past Wednesday, those two squads and Cerritos enters today’s action with identical 8-1 league marks. Mayfair will have last place and winless Artesia next week.

“I think it’s very important to them,” Freeman said of winning league. “That’s been our goal from day one. My first day here I sat them down and I talked to them for an hour. I just wanted to get all of their input on what they wanted to do with this season. That was one of Jennifer’s biggest things.”

Cameron and Iseri also admitted that as close friends and/or sisters as they are, they find it hard to seek any differences between each other and it’s hard for them to get mad at each other. And other than going home at the end of the day, the only other time when they are really not together is when they are with the same tutor, but at different times.

“I feel like I can trust her to help me out whenever,” Iseri said. “She knows me better than any catcher ever knows me. When I’m struggling, she’s there and she knows what I need to do to help get me back in shape, and vice versa.”

“You really want your pitcher to have that comfort zone and I think that in some ways, Heather is Jennifer’s security blanket,” Freeman said.

 

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