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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
The upstart Artesia High softball team was looking for a season sweep over Bellflower High and stay tied for second place with Norwalk High with four weeks remaining in the regular season. But the Pioneers couldn’t get much offense going after the first inning and a three-run top of the sixth inning propelled the Buccaneers to a 4-3 victory last Friday.
The Pioneers (5-3 overall, 2-2 in league) had scored twice in the bottom of the first, then were held without a hit until the seventh.
“I think it was a little bit of inexperience,” said Artesia head coach Dayna Feenstra. “We have four freshmen starting and we’re missing a key player this week; [junior infielder] Alyssa Rios is out. So we have some girls out of position.”
After a one-out walk was erased by a double play in the top of the first, the hosts came back and it began with a single to shallow right from freshman shortstop Natalie Luna. After she was moved to second, senior pitcher Destinee Alvarez hit a line drive single to center to bring in Luna. Senior center fielder Alijah Vega was then hit by a pitch and freshman third baseman Brenda Duran singled sharply to center to plate Alvarez.
A walk to senior first baseman Isabel Matamores would load the bases. But the first of four line drives back to the opposing pitcher ended any chance of a bigger inning as Vega would be doubled up.
Bellflower got on the board in the third when Jaylyn Hernandez was safe on an infield hit and eventually scored on a wild pitch. Artesia’s defense was keeping it a 2-1 game because of a bases loaded double play in the fourth and Lauren Amezcua getting caught stealing to end the fifth. But after throwing 81 pitches heading into the sixth, Bellflower would get to Alvarez in a big way.
Alvarez walked Angie Porcayo and gave up a single to Michaela Quinonez. Following a visit to the circle by Feenstra, Alvarez served up a double to Lia Hamamoto to make it a 3-2 contest. Two outs later, Hernandez singled in what proved to be the game-winner.
“She’s our workhorse and I think she was a little tired,” Feenstra said of Alvarez. “Usually we have [junior] Michaela [Benzor-Smith] or Rios come in, but both of them are not available.”
The Pioneers responded in their half of the frame when Vega reached on an error and scored on another miscue by the Bucs defense. In the seventh, freshman left fielder Aaliyah Chavez, the No. 9 hitter in the lineup, reached on Bellflower’s fourth error of the game.
However, she inadvertently strayed off of first and was called out. Then Luna singled but was doubled up when junior catcher Alyssa Medina hit a line drive back to the pitcher.
“Regardless of the score, I have confidence in all of my batters, especially at the top of the lineup,” Feenstra said. “They are my more experienced players. But I always have confidence in our hitting. I never question that.”
Prior to last week, the Pioneers had not played since upsetting Cerritos High 10-5 on Mar. 24, the first win over the Lady Dons since Cerritos moved into the league in 1999. Then Artesia doubled up Bellflower 8-4 on Apr. 13 behind a 14-hit attack. In that game, Duran had four hits and drove in four runs while Alvarez went three for four and scored three times.
“I think it did give us some momentum,” Feenstra said of beating Cerritos. “It was more confidence. It finally gave our girls and our program a little bit of hope in that they can beat those teams.”
As the Pioneers head into the final four weeks of the regular season, Medina, who batted in the second spot, Alvarez (No. 3), Vega (No. 4) and Duran (No. 5) might be the quietest version of Murderer’s Row in the league.
“These girls are the core,” Feenstra said. “Artesia has always had a bad name and these girls are the ones who are turning around the program. Without those girls, without the [Destinee’s], the Medina’s, the Ali’s, now the Nat’s and the Brenda’s coming up…without them we wouldn’t be having this special season that we have and that we’re going to have.”
Because Cerritos knocked off league-leading La Mirada High 5-1 last Friday and Norwalk High defeated Mayfair High 5-2 on the same day, every league team has at least one loss in the circuit. The Pioneers, who were slammed by La Mirada 11-1 this past Wednesday, will host the Matadores today before entertaining Norwalk on Wednesday. After Norwalk knocked off Glenn 8-1 this past Wednesday, Artesia was tied with John Glenn for fourth place with 2-3 league marks. The top four teams get automatic berths to the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division III playoffs.
“I’m very excited, still,” Feenstra said. “There’s no doubt about it. Just the fact that Artesia has a chance, I feel like that’s a huge thing for our program.”
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