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SUBURBAN LEAGUE SOFTBALL: Norwalk’s Vasquez is double threat against Artesia in Suburban League opener

 

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

 

Through the first four games of the regular season, this hasn’t been the season that Breanna Vasquez had hoped for. The senior pitcher for Norwalk High has been hampered by a nagging elbow injury and has been limited in her time in the circle, something the soon to be University of Central Florida star has never been used to during her time with the Lady Lancers.

But Vasquez was up to her old self this past Tuesday against Artesia High, which brought a smile to first-year head coach David Gonzalez, and the visiting Lady Lancers knocked off the Lady Pioneers 6-2 in the Suburban League season opener for both teams. Vasquez pitched six innings, scattered four hits and struck out 13 batters. She also helped herself at the plate, going three for three, scoring twice and driving in a run.

“Well, she’s incredible and I think our strategy of holding her back a little bit helped contribute to that,” Gonzalez said. “Her elbow, which has been giving her a little bit of problems, felt good. She was able to give us six strong innings and you just kind of see what she is with proper rest and not just being run ragged.”

“Today, the game was a lot of fun,” Vasquez said. “We were hyped as soon as we got here because it was the first day of league. I actually haven’t pitched in a while. So, coming back it felt really good.”

Norwalk (2-3, 1-0) wasted no time in getting on the board as Vasquez doubled to the left field gap with one out in the top of the first inning and scored on a base hit from freshman designated player Allison Conrad. The lead was doubled in the fourth inning when Conrad doubled to the left field gap and was replaced by sophomore courtesy runner Natalie Juarez. Following a sacrifice from sophomore first baseman Angelina Perez, Juarez scored on a wild pitch.

Meanwhile, Vazquez was cruising along through the first three innings, allowing three runners, none of whom reached second, and struck out seven. But in the fourth, Artesia (2-4, 0-1) had a golden opportunity to possibly change the complexion of the game.

Vasquez walked junior shortstop Natalie Luna, who went to third on a throwing error when junior third baseman Brenda Duran bunted on the first pitch. Then one pitch later, sophomore pitcher Valerie Joaquin also bunted. However, it went back to Vasquez who threw to freshman catcher Estefania Perez to get Luna out at home. Consecutive strikeouts would end the Artesia threat and Vazquez would work a perfect bottom of the fifth.

“It’s one of those things with Breanna, even though she hasn’t pitched a whole lot of innings this preseason and whatnot, that’s been a theme for her,” Gonzalez said. “When she gets runners in scoring position, she just tightens the screws. She’s just about as good as I’ve ever seen anybody be with runners in scoring position.”

“I think that’s kind of the best part of the game,” said Artesia head coach Dayna Feenstra. “You go in there with a plan; we knew we had to play small ball because Bri is a great pitcher. If that bunt went a little left or a little right, maybe [the result] is a little different. But bunting to the best player on the field didn’t help us out.”

Norwalk scored twice in the top of the fifth as senior center fielder Valerie Zavala tripled to center and scored on a sacrifice fly from sophomore shortstop Brianna Nunez. Then Vasquez doubled and scored on a base hit from senior second baseman Samantha Campos.

Artesia tried to get back in the game with a pair of runs in the bottom of the sixth as Luna was safe on an error with one out and Vasquez walked Joaquin with two outs. Both runners would score on consecutive singles from sophomore catcher Charlene Fregoso and freshman left fielder Isabel Navarro.

But the Lady Lancers iced the game with two more runs in the seventh as a sacrifice fly from Vasquez plated Valerie Zavala and a single from Campos brought home Nunez. Norwalk pounded out 14 hits and the top four in the lineup went a combined eight for 14 with five runs batted in and four runs scored.

“For the most part we had pretty good defense,” Gonzalez said. “We made a lot of contact and when you put balls in play, a lot of good things will happen. And again, with a girl like Bri, you give her three runs, she’s probably going to win 90 percent of her games, if not more.”

Even though the revenge factor may not have been evident, Norwalk didn’t want a repeat of last season when Artesia swept the Lady Lancers, winning 3-2 at Norwalk and 1-0 on the last game of the regular season with the run coming in the bottom of the seventh. In seven games against Artesia, Vasquez has struck out 71 batters and allowed seven runs.

“It definitely was in my mind,” Vasquez said. “I was thinking about it because I knew I wanted to come back and get back the two losses that we got.”

“With the talent that we have at Norwalk, we should never be swept by any team,” Gonzalez said. “So, when I heard that this team was swept last year, to say that I was shocked was kind of an understatement. I told them from the very beginning we had to come up with tempo, we had to control the speed of the game and we had to win the game.”

Norwalk was scheduled to host Cerritos high on Mar. 22 and will face Lompoc-based Cabrillo High and Sylmar High in pool play action of the Santa Fe Tournament on Saturday. The Lady Lancers will then visit La Mirada High and Mayfair High on Tuesday and Thursday respectively.

For Artesia, Joaquin was making her first high school start and struck out three while not walking a batter.

“I thought Valerie did an amazing job even though the score doesn’t relate to that,” Feenstra said. “This is her first game she has pitched and started in almost a year and a half to two years. But I think she did a great job for who she was facing.”

The Lady Pioneers were scheduled to visit La Mirada on Mar. 22 and is also in the Santa Fe Tournament where they will play Calabasas High and San Dimas High in pool play action. Artesia comes back home to host Valley Christian High on Tuesday and John Glenn High on Thursday.

“I told the girls that we have 11 more [league] games and this, obviously has some impact, but it’s not the end of the world,” Feenstra said. “We have a lot of teams out there that we can beat and that we can play. It’s still very, very early.”