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SUBURBAN LEAGUE SOFTBALL: Darling, Iseri come up big as Cerritos clinches second straight league title

By Loren Kopff

It was a classic Suburban League softball game that was destined to go into extra innings until Cerritos senior center fielder Megan Darling changed everything with one swing. In the bottom of the sixth inning and on a 2-2 count, Darling lifted a fly ball that fell in front of Norwalk senior left fielder Paola Martinez, scoring sophomore third baseman Destiny Lucero.

It would be the only run in the game that featured a combined 21 strikeouts, just three hits apiece and a second straight Suburban League title going to the Lady Dons. The last time Cerritos went back to back with league crowns was in 1999 and 2000 and in both seasons, the Lady Dons won the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division II championship.

“It feels good,” said Cerritos head coach Mike Freeman. “The girls worked hard and we had a difficult year as far as getting them to stick to the plan. I’m proud of them.”

“It’s a good feeling,” Darling said. “It’s a really good feeling being league champs.”

The game was billed as a top pitching duel between Cerritos senior Jennifer Iseri, who has been the face of Suburban League pitching for the past four seasons, and Norwalk freshman Breanna Vasquez, who has not disappointed anyone in her brief, young career as she figures to fill in the void as the league’s top hurler for the next three seasons.

But with both pitchers on their game, it wasn’t until the sixth that Cerritos found a way to get to Vasquez. On the second pitch of the inning, Lucero doubled to the left field gap and was moved over to third on a sacrifice from senior second baseman Amanda Lejano. After getting ahead in the count 2-0, Darling finally connected on probably her biggest hit of the season three pitches later. Darling had struck out in her previous two at-bats for a pair of the 13 strikeouts Vasquez would have in the game.

“The first time, I just saw a lot more spin on the ball and I was not expecting that,” Darling said. “That was really the only thing that was affecting me.”

Vasquez, who had entered the game with an earned run average of 0.73, was throwing a perfect game until senior right fielder Leeann Tran singled with two outs in the bottom of the fifth. Before that, Vasquez had fanned seven batters and got six others to either pop-up or fly out with the other batter grounding out.

“I didn’t know much about her, and she’s tough,” Freeman said. “She has a lot spin to her ball. She’s a tough out. It will be a tough game on Friday.”

But Iseri was sparkling as well, yielding three hits, all of them going to senior shortstop Jazmin Guzman, who is also Iseri’s travel ball teammate. Guzman singled in the top of the first, fourth and sixth innings.

The closest Norwalk (13-7 overall, 7-4 in league) would get to scoring came in the sixth when junior third baseman Kathleen Perez reached on an error with one out and went to third on Guzman’s single. A fielder’s choice from junior designated player Briana Lopez forced Guzman out at second and sophomore second baseman Samantha Navarrete’s pop-up was caught by freshman Kiarra Pope up against the first base fence just past the Cerritos dugout.

Both teams will meet again today at Norwalk before the Lady Dons end the regular season with a home and home series against Artesia on Tuesday and Thursday respectively with the latter game at home. Norwalk will be off next week and will not play again until the playoffs begin.

“I knew the league was getting better,” Freeman said. “Norwalk’s pitcher is awesome and Glenn is getting better. So the league is getting tougher. It’s a tough league now. It used to be three teams-Mayfair, Cerritos and La Mirada. Now it’s open. I like it. It’s tough every week. It’s challenging.”

Cerritos improved to 15-7 overall and 9-0 in the circuit and has not gone 12-0 in league since 2000. Last season, the Lady Dons went 20-4 and lost just one league contest.

“I think we faced different challenges both years,” Darling said. “However, we did find a way to pull through.”