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Cerritos outlasts La Mirada for outright Suburban League title

Cerritos High School Girls Softball Team celebrates league title.  Courtesy of CHS Softball Team Parent

Cerritos High School Girls Softball Team celebrates league title. Courtesy of CHS Softball Team Parent

By Loren Kopff

Following Cerritos’ 9-1 victory at La Mirada on May 13, first-year softball head coach Mike Freeman was nervous heading into last Thursday’s regular season finale. He, as well as many others, knew that the Matadores would play Cerritos much tougher with the league title on the line.

Freeman admitted that the pressure was on Cerritos and not on La Mirada. So, with the Lady Dons needing a victory to win the title all by themselves, they scored five runs in the bottom of the second and held on for a 6-5 win to capture the school’s first outright league crown since 2000. That was also the last time Cerritos swept La Mirada in the same season.

With the Suburban League softball scene acting like one big sorority of talent with friends playing for the big three-Cerritos, La Mirada and Mayfair, Freeman and his squad didn’t want to be sisterly and share the championship with the other two rivals.

“Absolutely not,” Freeman said. “We worked too hard this season and they had to go through too much learning a new system [with] a new coach. They deserved this. I didn’t want to share this.”

The Matadores jumped all over junior pitcher Jennifer Iseri for four runs in the top of the first as Nikki Barrow scored on a wild pitch and Alyssa Acuna brought in a pair of runs with a bases loaded single. Jenise Alvarenga would also score on an error as Iseri tossed 41 pitches in the inning. But the hosts answered back with a run in its half of the frame.

Rain Vega hit freshman shortstop Lailoni Mayfield with one out and scored on a base hit from junior catcher Heather Cameron. In the next inning, Cerritos put more pressure on Vega, who was replaced after giving up consecutive singles to junior right fielder Leeann Tran and junior left fielder Megan Darling to begin the inning. With Monica Navarrete now pitching, junior third baseman Amanda Lejano singled to bring in Tran.

Iseri then redeemed herself with a two-run base hit to center to tie the game. She would later score on a wild pitch and moments later, junior center fielder Melanie Okazaki, who was walked and advanced to third on Cameron’s second base hit, stole home.

“I thought our bats were our strong suit all year,” Freeman said. “So I was never really concerned about us scoring runs. I was more concerned about keeping them from scoring runs. I knew that four runs weren’t enough to beat us.”

But Cerritos would get one more hit the rest of the way while Iseri settled down a little, dodging one scoring threat after another. La Mirada stranded six runners from the second through the fifth innings and made it a one-run game in the fifth when Acuna doubled and scored on Vega’s base hit. Iseri then retired the next eight batters to end the game.

“I would say the pressure just got to her a little bit,” Freeman said. “But once she settled in, she was herself.”

The last time Cerritos won the league, it shared the honors with Mayfair in 2011. Senior second baseman Lilianna Herrera, the only upperclassman on the team this season, was a member of the 2011 league championship squad.

“As a freshman, winning Suburban League was a blessing,” Herrera said. “But I was going in there nervous because I was a freshman and I was looking up to other seniors. But now winning Suburban League [as a senior] and just being a leader of the team…it’s such an honor to know that I’m a leader of a team that’s able to accomplish so much like this. I’m so proud of the girls.”

Herrera started the game but was replaced in the third inning as she is battling an injury to her left arch that happened a few months ago. She said that she rested a little bit and it went away but the injury resurfaced on May 7 at Norwalk.

“I get what I can get out of her and then I take her out,” Freeman said. “It’s been like that for the past two weeks. She hasn’t gotten through a game the last two weeks. But she’s a senior, she’s tough and she’s a good player. She’s giving us all she has, so I’m proud of her.”

Cameron went three for four but the pleasant surprise for Freeman was the contributions he got from his bottom three of the lineup-Tran, Darling and Lejano-who all had a hit and scored once.

“Don’t sleep on the bottom of my lineup,” Freeman commented. “The bottom of my lineup is really good, and they have gotten a lot better.”

With the sweep over La Mirada, Cerritos has now won seven games over the Matadores since 1998 with five coming at home

“La Mirada has always been one of our toughest competitors,” Herrera said. “But I had so much confidence in my girls that we could do this. There was no doubt in my mind that we would be Suburban League champions.”