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605 LEAGUE SOFTBALL: Big fourth inning gives Cerritos the edge in old, but new rivalry


By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter


When the Artesia High and Cerritos High softball teams faced each other in the Suburban League, it was as one-sided as it could be. In 40 games since 1999, the first season that Cerritos moved into the league, it won 39 games with 22 of them by double-digit runs.

Last season, the Lady Dons swept the Pioneers by a combined five runs, a sign that Artesia was on the verge of knocking off Cerritos for the first time since 2016, Now that they are in a new league and are considered to battle for a league title this season and the foreseeable future, a new, but existing, rivalry is just getting started.

Artesia squandered leads of two and three runs and saw the Lady Dons bat around in the bottom of the fourth inning, scoring four runs and holding on for a 7-6 win in the 605 League opener for both teams. This game had everything from the combined 21 hits and five errors to stellar defensive plays all around. And while Cerritos is a defending league champion, head coach Kim Ensey knows that Artesia is a league contender of its own, now that the two don’t have to worry about La Mirada High or Mayfair High anymore as league foes.

“I definitely think that they are a contender,” Ensey said. “We know that they are our biggest competition as they showed today. That was such a great game. They battle every game, they fight, they have a lot of energy and that is going to keep them in every single ballgame they play no matter who they’re playing against.”

Artesia grabbed a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning when junior pitcher Valerie Joaquin’s groundout plated sophomore second baseman Zoey Williams, who had reached on an error. But the Lady Dons answered in their half of the inning on a bases-loaded single from sophomore first baseman Samiya Jones that dropped just in front of Artesia junior center fielder Camryn Thompson, scoring senior center fielder Essence Gibbs.

The Lady Pioneers (8-3 overall, 0-1) regained the lead in the top of the third inning on a pair of unearned runs as senior shortstop Natalie Luna scored when Joaquin was safe on an error and sophomore right fielder Shelby Hile grounded out to bring home Joaquin. That lead would be cut in half when senior second baseman Niki Ibarra singled in sophomore third baseman Alazea Herrera with two outs in the bottom of the third inning.

Artesia would add to its lead in the next inning when a groundout from Luna scored Thompson and three pitches later, a base hit from senior third baseman Brenda Duran allowed Williams to come home. But, the Lady Dons (5-7, 1-0) responded in a big way as nine players saw a total of 23 pitches thrown by Joaquin.

With one out and sophomore courtesy runner Alexa Diaz at second, Gibbs singled her in. Then with two outs, Joaquin walked freshman right fielder Kaitlin Caneda, before giving up a run-scoring singe to Jones on the next pitch. One pitch later, junior designated player Elise Gibbs singled to center and two pitches later, Ibarra’s second straight single made it 6-5.

“We just changed our game plan because what we were doing to start wasn’t working,” Ensey said. “So, we just made some adjustments at the plate. We were just waiting for a good pitch and hitting it.”

“I think this game was fun,” said Artesia head coach Dayna Feenstra. “We have a lot of girls who have played with each other since they were eight years old. So, I expected this. I expected us going back and forth. I knew it was going to be a one or two-run game. Unfortunately, we were on the losing side. But, we’re more excited to see them at home.”

That lead was very short-lived as three pitches into the top of the fifth inning, junior first baseman Leilani Pati homered over the right field fence. But with two outs in Cerritos’ half of the frame, Essence Gibbs was safe on a first-pitch infield single, stole second and scored the game-winner when freshman shortstop Jadyn Nielsen reached on an infield hit and advanced on an error.

In fact, Nielsen would have a hand in a lot of defensive plays, fielding seven sharp balls hit her way, throwing out a runner at home in the top of the third inning, a runner at third the next inning and starting a double play in the final inning.

“Defensively, Jadyn has been a spark,” Ensey said. “She’s a quiet leader in practice and she plays like that too. The aggressiveness she has in the game she has at practice as well. And it’s just a concept for her. She wants to win, she’s a competitor and it shows in every pitch in the game.”

“She was pretty impressive; an all-around little baller just hitting the ball well, seeing the ball, fielding the ball, throwing the ball,” Feenstra said. “She was kind of the small, little package. It’s going to be exciting for them to see what she does in the next couple of years.”

Cerritos stranded eight runners and Essence Gibbs went three for three and drove in a run while Ibarra, Jones and Nielsen all had a pair of hits while Thompson went three for five and scored once while Luna went three for four, scored a run and drove in another for the Lady Pioneers, who left 10 runners on the base paths.

“I think the defenses is what swayed this game both ways,” Ensey said. “I think it wasn’t the cleanest game. I think that both sides made some mistakes that cost them runs and both sides made some phenomenal defensive plays that saved some runs.”

Artesia hosted Paramount High on Mar. 21 and will face Whitney High on Tuesday at the Cerritos Sports Complex while the Lady Dons will take on John Glenn High on Tuesday at Zimmerman Park.

“It’s a huge one; it’s a huge start to go 1-0 in league especially after losing a bunch of games in the fall,” Ensey said. “With our youth, they’re excited. They were nervous and now we have one win under our belt in the most important part of our season.”