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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
It was just a matter a time before the Artesia High softball program would finally turn the page and be a legitimate factor in the Suburban League race. Yes, the Pioneers have had an upset here or there (see last season’s 10-5 win against Cerritos High).
But the Pioneers may have just pulled off one of the biggest upsets not only in school history, but in the league as well. Senior pitcher Destinee Alvarez, whose nickname is Shortee, was just the opposite as she scored on a passed ball with two outs in the top of the eighth inning, then got three ground ball outs in the bottom half of the inning to help her team knock off Norwalk High 3-2 this past Tuesday. It’s only the second win over the Lady Lancers in at least 20 seasons, the last time coming on Apr. 15, 2005. At 3-3 in the league, Artesia has its most league victories since 2005. Keep in mind, this is a program that has finished sixth or seventh every year since at least 1998 and is looking to go to the postseason for the first time since 1992.
“I think this one is huge because they are the defending champs,” said Artesia head coach Dayna Feenstra. “Bri was the [league] pitcher of the year last year. We struggled in the beginning with her, but we adjusted and we’ve had five games in a row on the road. So, it’s good to kind of get a little momentum.
“We’ve struggled a little bit the last couple of games,” she added, “For my team, I think this is huge. It keeps us in the playoff hunt and that was our goal at the beginning of the year.”
Feenstra was taking about Norwalk junior pitcher Breanna Vasquez, who was in a zone through the first five innings, striking out 10 and giving up just a fourth inning single to sophomore third baseman Brenda Duran.
But with one out in the top of the sixth, freshman center fielder Camryn Thompson beat out an infield single and scored on a triple from Alvarez when the Norwalk center fielder misjudged the ball and saw it go over her head. On the very next pitch Alvarez tied the game when Duran was safe on a fielder’s choice.
“That inning, we felt the most confident with the top of our lineup [coming up],” Feenstra said. “We have the upmost respect for them. Those girls worked really hard. So, once they were up, we knew we were going to score.”
“Our win was a team effort,” Alvarez said. “I love having my team back me on the mound. That really motivates me to do good.”
Norwalk, the defending league champions last season, have struggled all season long and have now scored two runs or fewer 11 times in 18 games. But the Lady Lancers grabbed a quick 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning. Freshman shortstop Brianna Nunez singled to right and with one out, moved to second on a base hit from senior first baseman Ashley Ponce.
Now with two outs, Alvarez walked her counterpart to load the bases before senior catcher Mercedes Orozco was safe on an error, allowing Nunez and Ponce to score. After that, Alvarez was stellar, allowing three hits the rest of the way, striking out five and allowing just one runner to reach third.
“I felt very confident because it makes me want to work harder to put Artesia back on the top list,” Alvarez said.
Despite Vasquez striking out 10 batters early on, the Pioneers had their best chance in the first. On the second pitch of the game, senior catcher Alyssa Medina was hit by a pitch, but was forced out going from second to third two batters later. Then with Alvarez and Duran on base, Vasquez struck out sophomore shortstop Natalie Luna.
But it would be the third and fourth time through the lineup that would work for the Pioneers, who improved to 6-6 overall.
“Just picking up the ball a little bit better,” Feenstra said of the adjustments later in the game. “At first I thought they were overly aggressive. Once they stayed in themselves and trusted themselves, they were able to put the ball in play.
“If you put the ball in play, who knows what they’re going to do,” Feenstra later said. “Once it’s in play, it’s out of their hands. When we struggle, it’s we’re not putting the ball in play.”
Artesia, which got just four hits, one each from the top four batters in the lineup, visited La Mirada High on Apr. 13 before taking the next two weeks off. When they get back to action, the Pioneers will host John Glenn High in the first of five straight home games.
“We have to find a way,” Feenstra said. “Our team is scrappy; they work hard. We’re always looked down upon by maybe some of the other teams and outside our league. But these girls are ready to fight and we’re going to get a couple of extra wins and we’ll surprise some people in the second half.”
“A win like this helps us bring our confidence back up,” Alvarez said. “We’re changing the Artesia program and flipping it bad name it had.”
Norwalk (5-13, 2-4) was limited to five hits with Nunez collecting a pair of them. It hosted Cerritos High on Apr. 13 in the final regular season home game. When the Lady Lancers get back from Spring Break, they will visit La Mirada on Apr. 25 and Mayfair High on Apr. 27. Those two, plus Cerritos, are the top three teams in the league.
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