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CIF-SOUTHERN SECTION DIVISION VI SOFTBALL PLAYOFFS: Whitney stung by Desert as defense struggles with unexpected lineup change


By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter

When you last experienced life in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section playoffs in 2012, you should be excited to be playing for a chance of a softball championship. But in the case of the Whitney High Lady Wildcats, some of that excitement was deflated when their only two seniors, both of whom have been on varsity for four years, opted to go on a senior retreat.

Without catcher Jenna Llamas and third baseman Melissa Babiera, Whitney floundered on offense and defense as it fell to Desert High 8-2 this past Tuesday in the lone Division VI wild card game. Whitney, who got third place in the Academy League by virtue of Crean Lutheran High forfeiting its May 11 game with the Lady Wildcats, concludes the season at 11-13.

“It feels good [to get to the playoffs] but it was disappointing that my other two girls weren’t here,” said Whitney head coach Luis Lavayen. “But I think next year will be a little better. I think we’ll be more prepared.

“One player doesn’t make a team,” he added. “But with [Jenna], it helps. It helps to have her here. She’s a key hitter. We missed her, but we can do nothing about it now. It’s too late.”

Llamas, who was second on the team with a .639 batting average and led the team with 39 runs, would have been the leadoff hitter and played behind the plate. Instead, junior Karen Kaur assumed the catching duties and sophomore left fielder Mary Kim batted first.

After the Scorpions, the fourth place representatives from the Desert Mountain League, scored an unearned run in the top of the first inning, Whitney scored its only two runs in the second. Emily Jackson walked sophomore second baseman Megan Babiera, hit sophomore right fielder Katerin Joachin and walked sophomore center fielder Janessa Alderete to load the bases with none out. Two pitches later, freshman third baseman Hailey Acosta, who batted ninth, singled to right field to bring in the two runs. Acosta entered the game with just three hits the entire season and no runs batted in.

“It’s unpredictable with them sometimes,” Lavayen said. “But it happens a lot and a lot of our games were decided by the bottom of the lineup. I think a lot of times it puts stress on the good hitters that they want to hit and they end up failing like today.”

Later in the inning with two outs, Jackson walked junior shortstop Ashley Iseri to load the bases for a second time. But a strikeout ended a golden opportunity to set the tone for the rest of the game. Whitney would load the bases again in the sixth as Jackson walked three more batters. But she escaped further damage with a pair of strikeouts. In all the Lady Wildcats, who were walked seven times and had four batters hit, left 11 runners in base.

“It’s very frustrating because I was hoping for the key hitters to hit,” Lavayen said. “A lot of times I can’t even ask for a bunt because they can’t bunt. But they’ll come around. A lot of them are nervous; a lot of them are young. So they’re scared.”

The Scorpions, whose high school is located on Edwards Air Force Base, tied the game in the third on a groundout from Raven Moore and scored the final six runs over the last three frames. Whitney was held to three hits and made eight errors. Freshman pitcher Taylor Genera, who has been a complete workhorse this season, allowed three earned runs and struck out six batters. She ends her first season with 165 strikeouts, a school record for a freshman as well as a single season.

Despite the season ending the way it did, Lavayen is hopeful that Whitney will have a better 2017 campaign and return to the playoffs.

“I’m hoping to work with Karen as our catcher, for one,” Lavayen said. “I need to get a third baseman because we’re losing Karen at third. And I’m hoping to pick up a couple of new girls because a couple of them are probably going to leave. They’re not too thrilled about softball.”