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Softball Standouts: Cerritos High’s Morinishi, Whitney High’s Genera taking different collegiate playing paths

 

Jennifer Morinishi (left) of Biola University and Taylor Genera of Chaminade University shortly before the first game of last Saturday afternoon’s doubleheader at Biola. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer

 

March 31, 2022

By Loren Kopff• @LorenKopff on Twitter

Even though they were products of the Cerritos Girls Softball Association, Taylor Genera and Jennifer Morinishi never faced each other during their four years at Whitney High and Cerritos High, respectively. They finally renewed their talents against each other just days before the pandemic put the world on a temporary halt in 2020 when their respective NCAA Division II institutions squared off for a pair of doubleheaders in Honolulu.

As the pandemic was still causing havoc with the softball schedules in 2021, Genera and Morinishi met one last time last Friday and Saturday afternoons as Chaminade University visited Biola University for a pair of doubleheaders. It marked the last time the two Cerritos friends will play against each other as Morinishi, listed as a redshirt junior, will graduate at the end of this school year while Genera still has one more year to display her talents.

But much more than their friendship is the different paths the two have taken throughout their collegiate career. Take the 5-9, 20-year old Genera, who was the big fish in a relatively medium-sized pond at Whitney. She came to the islands in 2020 and stepped in as one of two pitchers for the Silverswords, starting in six games and winning two of seven games before her season was shut down. She also had eight hits and drove in four runs as she was one of five players to have started all 12 games. But being in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with the uncertainties of the pandemic, Genera found herself in a tough situation.

“I guess it sucked feeling like, ‘I guess the season is over now’,” said Genera. “We didn’t know when we were coming back, and then it kind of killed the excitement of we’re leaving on a road trip this next weekend and then we weren’t. We found out on the Friday before we were leaving that Monday that it was done.”

 

 Former Whitney High standout Taylor Genera delivers a pitch against Biola University in the second game of a doubleheader last Saturday afternoon. Genera, who leads Chaminade University with a 2.20 ERA entering this past Monday, threw 38 pitches in three innings against the Eagles in a 5-3 loss. Genera allowed three hits, struck out a pair of batters and retired the final seven batters she faced. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer.

 

 

“Taylor is a huge factor for our team,” said Chaminade head coach Kent Yamaguchi. “She came to me three years ago and then the season got cancelled and last year we had a pod season. Throughout the years with us, she’s made PacWest Pitcher of the Week; she’s been Freshman of the Week. We’re very fortunate to have a girl like Taylor.”

The irony to that season was Chaminade’s last action was against Biola on Mar. 10 with a pair of games, Genera had lost to the Eagles 4-2 two days prior with Morinishi collecting two of the seven hits Genera had yielded. On Mar. 10, Genera again allowed seven hits, one going to Morinishi, in a 4-3 loss. In the second game of the doubleheader, Morinishi went three for four while Genera had a hit in three at-bats.

“It’s awesome; I love playing against people that I grew up with,” said Morinishi. “Me and Taylor battled when we were super young. So, just being to watch her grow up and now play against her in college is special, and the same thing with everybody else that I used to play with.”

Biola would finish in first place in the PacWest Conference with a 13-3 mark as the two players flew home before all travelling to the mainland was halted because of the pandemic. But already, the two were leaving their marks in college, even though Morinishi had a step on Genera.

The path that Morinishi has taken is slightly different, but still as important as Genera’s. Morinishi, who was primarily a pitcher throughout most of her days at Cerritos, was leading Biola with a .447 batting average, 34 hits and 14 doubles, all tops in the PacWest. She fell one double off the school record in a season in the NCAA era and was certain to smash that record had it not been for the pandemic. All that came off a brilliant freshman campaign in which she, among other notable feats, had a .292 batting average, scored 18 runs, drove in 15 and was the team’s Freshman of the Year. She also pitched over 52 innings and was on the All-PacWest Academic team.

 

 Ex-Cerritos High pitcher Jennifer Morinishi takes a swing against Chaminade University last Saturday afternoon. The Biola University senior outfielder/pitcher began this past week as the team’s leading hitter with a .396 average and was tops in hits (38), runs scored (20) and doubles (six). PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer.

 

“I was only a small part in the recruiting process; there were other coaches there,” said Biola head coach Kristin Halte. “But I do remember seeing her because I was the pitching coach. I remember seeing this little thing and I think it was just her spunk. She has a great attitude, and you could just tell that she really is attentive to the game as far as learning and adjusting.”

Last season was even more strange as the pandemic was in full force. Chaminade was relegated to playing all 24 games on the islands and against Hawai’i Pacific University and University of Hawai’i, Hilo. The Silverswords went 12-12 and Genera went 6-3 with a 2.34 earned run average. She was also effective at the plate, hitting .295 (fifth best on the team), with 23 hits and 14 RBI.

While Chaminade was playing in the Hawai’i pod, the Eagles were part of the Southern California pod, along with Concordia University and Azusa Pacific University where they went 14-10. But because Biola was on the mainland, it played more games, going 26-16 overall, and advanced to the 2021 NCAA Division II Softball Championships in Denver. Morinishi, who batted just under .300 with 36 hits, and the Eagles were seeded fifth and upset two teams higher before losing to West Texas A&M in a best of three series. She also landed a spot on the All-Tournament team while in the circle, she held opposing hitters to a .234 average.

“It was just amazing,” said Morinishi. “Seeing how hard our team worked and then just the result and the payoff…nobody believed in us. Everybody said we didn’t deserve to be there and just going out and beating the top ranked teams and coming in second place in the entire nation was just incredible; to show people what a small, little Christian school could do that no one had heard of before that point.”

But with things slowly getting better with Covid, the 2021 season would be the best for Genera and Morinishi. The former was establishing herself as one of the top pitchers the school has had and entering this past week, had a 4-4 mark with a 2.20 ERA. Finally getting to play a full season, something Morinishi had done as a freshman in 2019, was a welcome relief for Genera.

“It’s been pretty interesting,” said Genera. “With Covid and stuff, we haven’t gotten to play as much as we probably would have liked to. But it was a good season last year and we knew coming into this year, it was supposed to be really good.

“It was good to be able to play enough games to get a just of what it would feel like to have a season before actually having a season like this where we’re playing our over 17 games in 17 days,” she later said.

One of Genera’s better games was on this California trip which will end with the Tournament of Champions in Turlock, came on Mar. 21 when she battled with the number two team in the nation, Concordia, for eight innings before losing 1-0, scattering five hits.

According to Genera, who is majoring in Biology, the only thing that has changed since she was pitching for Whitney is her confidence; knowing that her defense will back her up all the time. Other than that, just a few tune-ups here and there are different from her high school days.

“I just recognized all her potential and it’s not real, real important, but physics do help,” said Yamaguchi. “With her height and with her legs…she’s just gotten better every year. She’s picked up a little velocity here and there. But her movement and her spin…we rely on her deception. And her mind; she’s a smart girl on and off the field.”

He added that his ace pitcher is equal to the six pitchers Concordia has and she took on the challenge of facing the second-ranked team in the nation.

“I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything now as far as us playing,” said Genera of playing more games than when she was a freshman “We do the workouts, we do the doubles a day; we get practice like that, and we spend a lot of time together. It’s been a good experience.”

As for Morinishi, she is going out with a bang to end her collegiate career. Entering this past week, she was leading the Eagles in average (.396), hits (36), runs (20) and doubles (six). She’s been leading off in the batting order and is a left-handed hitter, making her more dangerous at the plate.

“Obviously, originally she was recruited for pitching, but the great thing with her is she can do both, and she’s really stepped up in the outfield this year and really taken ownership of the outfield,” said Halte. “It’s something she really wanted to play, and she wanted centerfield and she worked her butt off to achieve it.”

“I didn’t even know I was leading [in batting average],” said Morinishi. “It’s not something that I want to consciously think about. But it’s a great honor to be leading. I think the biggest thing has been getting in the box and dominating my age group knowing that I am older than everybody and I can’t redo it after this year. So, I might as well work my butt off and go as hard as I can, and hopefully good things will follow if I work hard.”

Even though she is primarily an outfielder, she says she loves the pressure that comes with pitching, adding that it takes a unique person to be a pitcher. Usually when she pitches, she’s coming in a clutch situation. But she admits she has so much fun in the outfield, especially when she sings and dances with the other outfielders. This past Tuesday against Hawai’i-Hilo, Morinishi pitched the final three and two-thirds innings and got the win as the Eagles scored the game’s lone run in the bottom of the ninth. She went three for five and drove in Hailey Paull with a one out single to left center.

Last Friday, Genera was to have pitched against Biola in the second game of that doubleheader but injured her knee during warmups and was scratched from the game. The next day in the first of two against the Silverswords, Morinishi went two for four and drove in a run during an 8-0 contest. In the next game, Genera pitched three innings, giving up a pair of first inning runs, one scored by Morinishi who singled to left field on a 1-1 count as the Eagles completed the sweep with a 5-3 win.

“I love it; I love seeing [Morinishi] every time we’re out here,” said Genera. “It’s just great to see her out her. I get to see people you grew up playing against when you were young. I get to have that little rivalry again. No matter what team we’re on, we always seem to end up against each other.”

“Taylor is definitely a drop ball, spinning pitcher and I had known that going into the box,” said Morinishi. “Over this past week, I had watched my film when we played [Chaminade] two years ago and that’s what she was getting me on. My approach going into the box was looking for something elevated; looking for something I could drive and hit hard and not trying to do too much with it, but just try to poke something through.”

Morinishi said once she graduates, she will take a gap year and plans to apply to either Ph or medical school, then finish out her undergraduate and do some work experience as an EMT before applying.

 

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