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Norwalk softball progressing while Valley Christian mired in early season slump

By Loren Kopff

Two teams that are going in the opposite direction through the first eight games of the season met last Thursday when Norwalk, behind freshman sensation Breanna Vasquez, hosted Valley Christian. Vasquez threw seven strong innings and struck out eight as the Lady Lancers held on for a 5-4 victory.

Norwalk improved to 5-3 and has already defeated quality opponents such as Esperanza, El Rancho and the Lady Crusaders, the defending co-champions of the Olympic League. It’s the beginning of a season that has Paulette Gasporra, in her second stint has Norwalk’s head coach, believing her team is on the rise again.

“I do,” Gasporra said. “Like I told them today, it’s a new ballclub, it’s a new year, and a new staff. We’re looking forward to league and putting preseason behind us and focusing on one game at a time.”

Norwalk grabbed a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning when senior shortstop Jazmin Guzman, bound for California State University, Dominguez Hills in the fall, doubled with one out and scored on a bases loaded single from junior center fielder Serena Nicolas that just got through the outstretched arms of V.C. senior shortstop Emily Morrow. But Norwalk couldn’t get any more in that frame despite loading the bases.

“I’m never disappointed with the girls,” Gasporra said. “They’ve always given me their 100 percent. That’s all I can ask for.”

Norwalk would increase the score to 3-0 two innings later when senior left fielder Paola Martinez singled and scored on a base hit from sophomore second baseman Samantha Navarrete. That was followed by a single from junior first baseman Briana Lopez who eventually came home on a ground out from Vasquez.

Meanwhile, Vasquez was breezing through V.C.’s lineup the first time around, striking out seven in the first three innings and allowing a Morrow single plus one other base runner. But the Lady Crusaders finally got to Vasquez in the top of the fourth inning when senior designated player Kaitlyn Carr singled in sophomore left fielder Briana Lerma with the bases loaded and two outs. After Norwalk answered back in its half of the inning, V.C. added two more runs in the top of the fifth on a run-scoring hit from Lerma and a sacrifice from freshman second baseman Chloe Malau’ulu.

“When you have that kind of pitcher in there, sometimes the defense doesn’t get a lot of chances to play defense,” said V.C. head coach Jim Snyder of Vasquez. “We shortened up the field on a couple of opportunities to make the plays. We were bunting and [sacrificing] and…we got some breaks out there, but we couldn’t get the big hit off of her.”

“She did well but they just caught on,” Guzman said. “So, I think we just need to switch it up on our signs.”

Norwalk added what turned out to be the game-winning tally in the bottom of the sixth when sophomore right fielder Alejandra De La O scored on one of six V.C. errors. The Lady Crusaders made one last attempt of tying, or going ahead in the top of the seventh when senior center fielder Madison Wright doubled to the left field gap and came home on a double from Lerma.

V.C. wasn’t quite done yet as junior third baseman Chanel Varney reached on an error with two outs and Morrow, the Boston University signee, was safe on a fielder’s choice to load the bases. But Vasquez struck out senior first baseman Tia Naulls to end the game. Vasquez, who no-hit El Rancho just three days prior, improved to 4-0 and has struck out 49 batters in 26 innings. She has also walked just eight batters.

“She’s a great pitcher,” Gasporra said. “She’s our only freshman on varsity and she’s doing good things for us. So, I wasn’t worried and as you saw, it was bases loaded and she finished strong with a strikeout.”

“I think it was a good win,” Guzman said. “We just need to be more consistent with our hitting, because we score and then we go innings where it’s just one, two, three. That can’t happen.”

The Lady Lancers, who concluded their non league portion of their schedule, opened up Suburban League action at Bellflower this past Wednesday. Those two teams will meet again at Norwalk today. The Lady Lancers will then welcome in Mayfair on Tuesday before going on the road two days later to face the Monsoons.

“I think it gives us some confidence so we don’t go in negative,” Guzman said of the win. “And if we keep being consistent, I think we should be good.”

As for the Lady Crusaders, who dropped to 1-7, Snyder changed his batting lineup after seeing his team enter the contest with a batting average of .228. He moved Morrow from the leadoff spot to the sixth spot, replacing her with Wright. Varney, who had batted second, was dropped to the fifth spot and Lerma moved from fourth to third, among some of the moves. Despite the loss to Norwalk, Snyder saw some improvements.

“I did, and I’ll tell you why,” Snyder said. “Our leadoff [hitter] today goes one for four. But if you look at her [on base percentage], I’m not sure what that number is but I think it’s above .500. When I’m confronted with that versus .143, those numbers are too glaring. I have to roll with [the better numbers]. I would be irresponsible as a coach if I didn’t.”

V.C. will face Chino Hills today in the first round of the Diamond Bar Tournament and will host Calvary Chapel Downey on Tuesday before travelling to John Glenn on Thursday.