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Okazaki dominates Artesia as Cerritos wins fifth straight game

By Loren Kopff

When the Cerritos High softball season began on Mar. 2, the Lady Dons were carrying four pitchers. But after an injury to sophomore Jennifer Iseri, projected to be the No. 1 hurler, and the sudden departure of senior Kaylilani Minami four games into the season, it left the door wide open for sophomore Melanie Okazaki to get a lot of time in the circle.

This past Wednesday, Okazaki flirted with a perfect game early on but settled for a three-hitter as the Lady Dons blanked Artesia 7-0. After losing seven of its first 10 games, Cerritos has now won five straight, all coming in Suburban League action. Okazaki, who didn’t pitch last season but batted .406, started her seventh game and upped her record to 4-3.

“I feel more comfortable because I’ve been working on my pitching more,” Okazaki said.

Okazaki retired the first eight Artesia batters before walking sophomore left fielder Daisy Briseno. But on the very next pitch, she got senior center fielder Dominique Gonzales to foul out on a pop-up bunt.

Okazaki was still throwing a no-hitter until freshman first baseman Ali Vega led off the top of the fifth with an infield single. Senior pitcher Dominique Moran followed that up with an infield knock of her own. But with one out, sophomore designated player Briana Perez hit into a double play which ended with Vega being thrown out at home. Those two scoring opportunities, according to Artesia head coach Jeff Hovis, were momentum killers as Okazaki allowed three more base runners over the final two innings.

“It definitely was,” Hovis said. “It was one of those situations where we were looking to get the ball down and get the girls moving on bases and we popped it up and got ourselves out of it.

“It was a situation where [Vega] and I talked and said that if the ball is hit to the opposite side, you go,” Hovis later said of the double play. “If it’s hit to the shortstop, you wait. This situation was that we were supposed to hold and wait. She heard somebody say ‘go’ and she took off and left.”

Meanwhile, Okazaki was helping her own cause by launching a wind-aided solo home run in the third inning that went 202 feet down the right field line and bounced on top of the roof of a residential house just beyond the foul pole. It was her first home run of the season and gave the Lady Dons (8-7 overall, 5-2 in league) a 2-0 lead.

“I was looking for more of an inside pitch because I pull everything,” Okazaki said.

Cerritos scored twice in the fourth as junior second baseman Lilianna Herrera singled in junior center fielder Jasmine Javier and sophomore left fielder Megan Darling. Even though the score was 4-0, Hovis felt his team was still in the game but that all changed in the sixth when the Lady Dons iced the contest with three unearned runs. Okazaki had a run scoring double to center and senior shortstop Erin Clinton laced a two-run single down the third base line. In all, Cerritos pounded out 11 hits with sophomore catcher Heather Cameron, sophomore first baseman Madison Lee and Okazaki all collecting two hits. Okazaki also struck out five and threw 90 pitches.

“I think that I was more into it and I think the whole team did really well,” Okazaki said. “We gave it our all.”

“She had a phenomenal outing,” Hovis said. “She threw very well against us. You could see that she’s obviously a pitcher.”

While most coaches don’t like to use the term ‘moral victory’, Hovis believes this game could be a springboard for the future. It was the first time since 2008 that the game did not end in the fifth inning due to the mercy rule.

“I feel there is [some consolation],” Hovis said. “I feel that [the game] was a big stride in the program and it’s changing; showing that it’s going to start trying to battle against the better teams.”

The two teams will meet again today at Artesia (9-12, 1-4) before the Lady Dons host Mayfair on Wednesday and Artesia visits La Mirada on Wednesday.

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