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SOFTBALL: Cerritos gets to Norwalk in latter innings to pick up first win of season

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

It was just a matter of time before the Cerritos High softball team would crack the win column. The Lady Dons have had a lead in three of their first six games but some late inning dramatics by a pair of their opponents have cost the black and gold a chance for a win or two.

However, against former Suburban League foe Norwalk High last Thursday, it was Cerritos which rallied for its first victory. Runs in the bottom of the fourth, fifth and sixth innings pushed the hosts to a 3-1 victory and some relief to many around the program.

“It’s something we’ve been working really hard for,” said Cerritos head coach Kim Ensey. “We knew we could win more games. We just haven’t been closing them out. So today, we finally closed one out against a good team. I think the energy was there, the performance was there, and we just needed to all click at one time.”

After squandering an opportunity to score in the top of second inning, thanks to a double play turned by sophomore second baseman Jadyn Nielsen and sophomore first baseman Makayla Sur, the Lady Lancers got on the board in the next inning. With two outs, senior third baseman Brianna Nunez doubled to the right gap and came home on a single from freshman shortstop Leilani Juan. Four pitches later, a single from senior center fielder Destanie Cervantes put runners at the corner. But a pop-up ended that threat and the game would quickly shift hands.

Through the first three innings, Norwalk had four hits and senior pitcher Angelina Perez had yielded one hit while allowing three baserunners. But over the last four innings, and with Cervantes pitching two and two-thirds innings, the Lady Dons collected six hits while sophomore pitcher Erin Gibbs allowed one hit, walked one and retired the final seven batters she faced.

“I think a lot of that has to do with our in-game adjustments,” Ensey said. “I think we do a very really good job at that, and we don’t approach any at-bat the same twice. They changed pitchers and we adjusted to the new pitcher really well.”

“The big difference between the two halves is the second half, we got a little sloppy in our execution,” said Norwalk head coach David Gonzalez. “There were some minor mistakes, but when you’re facing a team like Cerritos, that has great athletes, they’ll make you play for every single mistake.

“The pitching change was already scheduled,” Gonzalez later said. “We don’t have a girl that’s going to be able to get through seven innings. So, three to four innings are usually what we’re trying to divide up. We have four girls that can pitch in the program and we’re usually trying to go three to four innings max.”

With one out in the bottom of the fourth inning, Sur singled to right, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on a double from junior left fielder Lauren Lejano. In the next inning, again with one out, junior third baseman Azalea Herrera singled and moved to second on an error. A fielder’s choice would put her at third and senior center fielder Essence Gibbs at first. Nielsen’s infield bunt in front of the plate would load the bases before a fielder’s choice from sophomore shortstop Kaitlyn Caneda forced Herrera out at home.

However, Sur would be hit by a pitch, which brought Essence Gibbs home for the game-winner. Then with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning, senior right fielder Sarah Duarte singled to right and scored on Herrera’s double to the right field gap.

“Azalea has been huge for us offensively this year,” Ensey said. “The last two years, she’s been more in the flex spot. She really has shined offensively; her confidence is there. She’s getting a lot more power and she’s got a lot of RBI’s and a lot of clutch hits already this year.”

Erin Gibbs went the distance for the second time this season, giving up five hits, striking out three and walking one while offensively, Herrera went two for two and was walked once while Sur also went two for two. Ensey also put together somewhat of a new infield to accommodate for the absence of junior first baseman Samiya Jones, who is out with an injury. Ensey moved Lejano, primarily a second baseman, to left field while shifting Nielsen from shortstop to second and putting Caneda, who caught most of last season, at shortstop. Lejano would start a huge double play in the top of the fifth inning while Caneda had three assists and two putouts and Nielsen four assists and three putouts.

“Katelyn has been our starting shortstop this whole year except for a couple of games,” Ensey said. “Jadyn has pitched a lot for us, so when Erin has been pitching, this has pretty much been our lineup. Even when Samiya was here, Makayla’s been our number four hitter the whole season. But it is a huge gap with Samiya [gone]…just the intimidation of her power, her bat and speed and her presence at the plate.”

The top five hitters in Norwalk’s lineup all collected a hit as Gonzalez is still searching for more contribution from the bottom of the lineup.

“The front end of our lineup is, I think, going to be overall pretty impressive throughout the whole season,” Gonzalez said. “Unfortunately, the back end, I’m still trying to find the right fits; girls that can at least give good at-bats.”

Still, Norwalk is off to a great start, winning six of its first nine games, and all on the road as construction is being done on Norwalk’s athletic fields. The Lady Lancers have posted two shutouts and have scored at least 10 runs four times and nine runs in another win. Norwalk was scheduled to visit Paramount High this past Tuesday, weather permitting, and hosted Whitney High on Mar. 12 before travelling to Los Altos High and St. Joseph High on Tuesday and Thursday respectively.

“It’s been amazing,” Gonzalez said. “Just these last two weeks, we’ve played six games in the last seven school days. So, there’s been a ton of travel, the pitchers have been playing a lot of innings in a real short amount of time. It’s just been impressive how they’ve been able to bounce back each day and each day after some tough games against St. Anthony and Schurr, who are great teams They’ve just been coming back with great energy. I could tell it’s starting to wear down on them a little bit. So, it’s good to finally get back to a normal schedule. But I’ve been proud of the development; we have seven freshmen on the varsity team this year. I’m just really excited with everything I’ve seen.”

Meanwhile, the Lady Dons have had a tough slate in 2020 and is scheduled to participate in the Torrance National Tournament through Saturday, weather permitting. The 605 League opener is Tuesday against Artesia High, whom Cerritos shared the league title with last season. 

“It’s definitely tough and that’s why I like it,” Ensey said of the tournament. “It’s a lot of games in a short period of time. So, for us, being a little lighter sometimes on pitching, it’s been a challenge this year. We actually have two pitchers I can start any game for us. Assuming they’re both healthy I think we should have a pretty good shot of making a good run if we can keep playing how we did today.”