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SUBURBAN LEAGUE SOFTBALL: Morinishi handles Mayfair in many ways as Cerritos takes over first place

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

One of the advantages a high school softball pitcher has is that she knows a lot about her opposing players, especially if they are travel softball teammates. Cerritos senior pitcher Jennifer Morinishi is no different to this when it comes to Mayfair High.

Morinishi knows a lot of the Mayfair players, whether through recreational ball several years ago, or through the travel circuit. Some of them hit off Morinishi all the time as travel softball teammates, thus making it hard for them to try to get hits if they’ve seen what she throws when it comes to the high school games.

Morinishi battled the Monsoons with first place on the line this past Tuesday and held off a late rally as the Lady Dons posted a 7-4 victory which moved the team to 11-4 overall and 4-0 in the circuit. Mayfair dropped to 11-4, 3-1 as both teams, along with La Mirada High, are receiving votes for the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division 3 poll. Morinishi struck out six, walked two and had a hand in six other outs.

“When you play teams where they’re throwing seven innings, you get to the point where you start seeing the same batters three or four times,” Morinishi said. “A good batter will hit at least one out of three times. It just comes together all in the same inning and they got momentum and I think it was just us not capitalizing on the momentum that we did have.”

“We just had confidence and worked on the things we needed to work on,” said Cerritos head coach Kim Ensey. “That’s kind of been our philosophy this year; making sure that we’re playing the game as flawlessly as possible. We did not do that today, but minimizing errors, minimizing our own mistakes and capitalizing on other teams’ [mistakes] and I think we were able to do that today.”

The Lady Dons, winners of seven straight games, built a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning on senior first baseman Kiara Crockett-Pope’s home run to center. They had a chance to add to that in the next inning when they loaded the bases when Mayfair pitcher Skyler Swearingen hit a pair of batters and walked another. But a controversial pop-up by Morinishi in foul territory ended that threat.

Cerritos would not waste another opportunity in the third, and in fact, sent 11 batters to the plate, getting four hits off two pitchers and scoring five runs. It all started with Swearingen intentionally walking Crockett-Pope before junior left fielder Elise Gibbs doubled over the head of Mayfair right fielder Sydney Soto. Then with two outs, senior right fielder Kristina Mendez reached on an error, allowing Crockett-Pope and Gibbs to score.

Freshman designated player Samiya Jones would single and freshman second baseman Lauren Lejano was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Two pitches later, sophomore center fielder Essence Gibbs singled in a pair of runs and on the next pitch, Morinishi made it 7-0 with a base hit.

“We definitely had some good opportunities in the beginning and we weren’t taking advantage of them,” Ensey said. “And then they made that error at second base and that kind of opened the floodgates a little bit.

“We’ve struggled a little bit with the bases loaded this season,” Ensey later said. “Just getting our girls to relax at the plate…they get a little overanxious like they want to crush it instead of just extending the inning. That’s something we’ve been really talking about as our hitting philosophy. But I wasn’t really worried. I know we were putting baserunners on and as long as we kept doing that, we were going to score more runs.”

With a seven-run lead and Morinishi cruising through four innings, allowing three hits and striking out five, the Lady Dons needed three more runs to possibly end the game early. But the Monsoons got to Morinishi in the top of the fifth inning and were aided by a key error. With two outs, Morinishi walked Soto, gave up a single to Mariah Melendez and walked Haley Davis to load the bases. An error would then allow Haylee Ridge to reach first and four pitches later, Kara Spoolstra cleared the bases with a double to the left field gap.

“She was trying to get a little too much of the plate and she wasn’t getting the corners called that she would like,” Ensey said. “So, she was having to bring it in and when Jen has to bring the ball in, then it gives teams a chance to put the ball in play.”

While the Lady Dons would not get a hit over the final two innings and only another intentional walk, the third of the game to Crockett-Pope, the Monsoons made it interesting in the seventh. Soto and Melendez each singled with none out. But Soto was caught stealing when Morinishi anticipated she would try to steal third. After that, Davis hit into a double play that glanced off Morinishi to junior shortstop Niki Ibarra, who then threw to Crockett-Pope to end the game.

“I knew it was coming, especially [since] they did it with the same batter coming up and the same runner on [before],” Morinishi said. “I was expecting it to come and I could kind of tell by Haley’s placement in the box. She moved forward a little bit to kind of block the throw to [third base] just in case [Soto] did take off.”

This has been one of the best rivalries in the league for a long time and with Cerritos moving into the 605 League next year, it will face Mayfair one last time in league competition. The Monsoons currently hold a 21-18 advantage in the series since Cerritos came into the league in 1999 but since 2011, Cerritos has won eight of 15 meetings. The rematch will be on May 3 when the league title could be claimed.

“I’m glad that I get to go out on our last year,” Morinishi said. “It’s really like all out for this year. It’s always a good game between us and Mayfair. It’s always been close, and we have a lot of respect for their team. They’re scrappy; they come back, they produce runs and I think that’s something you need to do to win ball games. I think they do a good job at that.”

Cerritos visited up and coming Artesia High on Apr. 12 and will have another big test when it hosts La Mirada High on Tuesday to wrap up the first half of league play. The Lady Dons will then entertain last place John Glenn High on Thursday.

“It’s where we wanted to be and where we expect to be as a team,” Ensey said. “We know that any team can beat anybody at any time. So, we know that every game is really crucial in our league. We’re really happy to be here at 4-0.”

“That is hard, but there’s also this pressure that’s added on of course to keep that number one spot,” Morinishi said. “We still have to remind our team that we’re still early in the [league] season; it’s only been four games. There’s no way we can get complacent now. They’re still coming back for us next game and we still haven’t played La Mirada.”