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Artesia Softball Making Early Season Strides, Sweep Jordan in Doubleheader

By Loren Kopff

After the first three weeks of the season, things are working out better than originally planned for Jeff Hovis and his Artesia softball team. The new coach has watched the Pioneers win seven of their first nine games, be ranked in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division II top 10 poll and seen the best hitting the program has had in 20 seasons.

Last Thursday, Artesia swept a doubleheader from Long Beach Jordan to improve to 7-2, already eclipsing last season’s victory total by two games and posting the most wins in over 15 seasons. After knocking off the Panthers 10-3 and 18-7, Hovis couldn’t have been more surprised of how much the players have responded in such a short amount of time.

“Very much so, [especially] in the girls believing in the program,” Hovis admitted when asked if he was surprised this early. “They came out and won a couple of real critical games early and now they’re starting to believe in themselves and trying to build off of each game.”

Since 1998, the Pioneers have averaged just three wins for an entire season. But in 2012, the team is off to a good start despite a relatively young team.  After waiting an additional 45 minutes for the umpires to show up and seeing the visiting Panthers score three unearned runs in the top of the first inning, the Pioneers bounced back and sent 11 to the plate in their half of the frame. Junior designated player Kira Ito had a two-run scoring base hit and three pitches later, scored on a single from freshman second baseman Briana Perez.

Two batters later, sophomore shortstop Natalie Estela’s base hit to center brought in Perez and eventually scored on an infield hit from junior centerfielder Dominique Gonzalez. Ito would lead off the second with a home run down the left field line and added another run scoring hit in the third, followed by a double from Perez. Ito and Perez went a combined eight for 10 with six runs batted in and five runs scored in the opener.

While Ito is the most experienced player on the team, having been on varsity for three seasons, Perez has already shined, batting .364 with 10 runs and five RBI. Those two, plus freshman third baseman Jeslynne Roberts, have given the Pioneers a very formidable middle of the lineup.

“She has a bright future,” Hovis said of Perez. “She has not had a whole lot of confidence in herself. I saw her bat and her bat speed and her ability. I believed in it the whole time and kept telling her I believed in it and she came through. She’s starting to believe in herself a little bit more. With Jeslynne behind her, we’re doing very, very well.”

Junior Dominique Moran allowed two hits and struck out seven. She retired the last eight batters and 12 of the last 14. In the nightcap, Artesia went to work early again, scoring twice in the first and four in the second. But the game was put away with an eight-run third highlighted by a bases loaded, two-run single from Ito and a run scoring hit from Roberts.

Artesia collected nine more hits but got another decent performance from Moran, who pitched the first four innings, scattering two hits and striking out seven. Moran has gotten the decision in all nine games thus far.

For the second straight week, the Pioneers are ranked seventh in the division as it visited defending co-league champion Mayfair this past Wednesday. Mayfair is ranked fourth in the division. The two teams will meet on Artesia’s field today before the Pioneers participate in the Whittier Tournament on Saturday. On Monday, Artesia hosts Crean Lutheran.

“I was very surprised [that we are ranked],” Hovis said. “I was actually looking for Cerritos and I saw our name. I think it’s going to be a good builder for the kids. We’ll see how we go out and battle from this point forward.

“We have to go out and play flawless ball,” Hovis later added. “I hope to go out and just battle and I hope the kids have the heart to go out and battle. Let’s play ball and see what happens.”