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SUBURBAN LEAGUE SOFTBALL Morinishi recovers from slow start, guides Cerritos to Suburban League crown

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter

Cerritos High junior pitcher Jennifer Morinishi had a lot to say about the outcome of her team’s win against La Mirada High this past Monday with first place in the Suburban League on the line. Morinishi went two for three with a run batted in, scored once, scattered six hits and recorded an assist on the last out of the game as the Lady Dons edged the Matadores 3-2 this past Monday.

Coupled with a 10-0 win against John Glenn High this Wednesday, Cerritos ends the regular season at 18-5 overall and 11-1 in the league. It’s the first league title for the Lady Dons since 2015, third in the last four seasons and fourth in the last seven. Last season, Cerritos finished in fourth place at 7-5 and had an overall mark of 11-15-1. In addition, Mayfair High defeated La Mirada 7-2 this past season, giving the Lady Dons the league title outright.

“We’ve had this goal from the beginning of the year when I first got here,” said Cerritos first-year head coach Kim Ensey. “We didn’t want to just make an impact on the league. We didn’t want to just be a team that could beat anybody. We wanted to beat everybody. And so now, we have. We’ve put ourselves in a very good position.”

“It’s a great feeling,” Morinishi said. “I’m super proud of my team and the way that we came out today, I think that we all worked together really well. I’m really, really, happy to be a part of this squad. It’s such an amazing team that we have this year.”

With the scored tied 2-2, junior first baseman Kiara Crockett-Pope led off the bottom of the sixth with a base hit to center. After advancing on a sacrifice from senior third baseman Destiny Lucero and a wild pitch, she scored the game-winner on a single from senior shortstop Lailoni Mayfield. Morinishi then needed 10 pitches to work a perfect seventh with all three outs being groundouts.

The Matadores, who finished in a three-way tie for first last season, took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first as Kayla Gutierrez scored on a base hit from Marissa Velez. The Lady Dons thought they had a tie game in their half of the frame. But Morinishi would be tagged out a home to complete a double play that ended the threat.

Morinishi was dominant after allowing the first run. She recorded eight straight outs following the Velez single and 14 out of the next 17 until Velez led off the fifth with a double to the left field gap. By this time, Cerritos had forged to a 2-1 lead.

“She’s a little bulldog,” Ensey said. “She wants to win every single pitch, whether it’s offensively or defensively. She’s the type of kid you want in that position because you know she wants it 100 percent of the time. She doesn’t falter just because she gets thrown out at the plate or she has a walk. She executes on both sides of the ball.”

“It was definitely just trusting my team,” Morinishi said. “They were making amazing plays out there. So, it was just knowing that if I put the ball in play or if I hit my spot and there were going to hit the ball, our team was going to make the play and we’ll have the outs.”

Morinishi led off the fourth with a single and with one out, the bases were loaded when Crockett-Pope and Lucero were both hit by a pitch. Mayfield’s sacrifice fly then plated Morinishi.

With one out in the next inning, freshman center fielder Essence Gibbs barely reached first on a costly error. She would then steal second and scored the go-ahead run on a double down the left field line from Morinishi.

But La Mirada quickly tied the game in the sixth on a run-scoring single from Djhane Valido with Velez coming home.

“I think every game you’re going to have your ups and downs,” Morinishi said. “But it’s making sure that you’re riding on those ups and downs and make sure that you’re staying level-headed throughout the whole game. That’s something I’ve been working on this year.”

Both teams combined for 11 hits, which is a far cry from the first time they met on Apr. 6. In that game, La Mirada was up 6-1 before the Lady Dons tied the game with a five-spot in the fifth, then took one-run leads in the next two innings. La Mirada eventually won 9-8 as both teams belted out 24 hits, but combined for seven errors.

“Our girls have matured; we’ve started working as a team better,” Morinishi said. “We also got some new underclassmen that I think are helping our team this year. They all bring something to the team that helps us be a better team.”

“We have to come out to beat every team we play regardless of what their record is,” Ensey said. “We have a ton of respect for La Mirada, as everyone in the league should. They come out and play well every single season.”

Cerritos will roll into next week’s California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section playoffs on a seven-game winning streak outscoring their opponents 55-11. For added measure, Morinishi has pitched in all but four innings the entire season and has five shutouts.

“For me personally, this has been a special year as far as it being my first year,” Ensey said. “But these girls have put us in that position. It’s been a real group effort. When I first came in, I wanted everyone to know that it was our program, not mine and we’ve done it as a whole team.”