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CIF-SS DIV. 6 SOFTBALL PLAYOFFS – Torres, Artesia give J.W. North a scare before falling in semifinals

May 18, 2023

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter

The numbers didn’t stack up favorably for Artesia High when it hosted J.W. North High in last Saturday morning’s CIF-Southern Section Division 6 semifinal game. The Pioneers, ranked fifth in the division, finished in third place in the 605 League and had to play a wild card game while the Huskies, the top team in the division, lost three games all season, batted .490 as a team and had eight starters hit at least .429.

Artesia didn’t seem concerned about those numbers and junior pitcher Maya Torres proved that early on, taking a perfect game into the sixth inning and a no-hitter into the seventh before it all fell apart. The Huskies, with three freshmen and two sophomores starting, finally got to Torres for all four runs in the last inning, advancing to the championship game in a 4-0 victory that lasted 76 minutes. Artesia dropped to 16-8 and will wait to see if it is going to the CIF Southern California Regionals next week.

“My thoughts right now is when I see the girls’ faces [and] I hurt for them because they’re hurting right now,” said Artesia head coach Ed Blanck. “But they played an awesome game all seven innings. They just got in a little bit of trouble. We knew whoever was going to make the first error [the other team] was going to win.”

“I give all credit to their pitcher,” said J.W. North head coach Ernie Tamayo. “She was throwing; she was dealing. It was really going to come down to who came with the big hit, who was going to bend first or a mistake. Luckily, we got some bats going, but it was a pitching duel. That’s what it was.”

Torres was as hot as one could be for most of the game. She threw no more than 11 pitches in any of the first five innings and got to a three-ball count once during that time. Of the first 15 outs, seven were groundouts, four were flyouts and four were strikeouts. Even in the sixth inning when Brooklyn Baray reached on the only error of the game, Torres got out of the jam when Baray was forced at second and Laela McDaniel, who was pinch running for Remi Martinez, was caught stealing third.

But the seventh inning was different as Torres walked Makayla Noone and Angelina Martinez and hit Bobbi Arce to load the bases with none out. On the next pitch, Jade Jorrin singled in a pair of runs and after a sacrifice from Nicholl Stearns, Baray provided the knockout punch with a two-run base hit to right.

“I was so impressed with Maya,” said Blanck. “And then, I don’t badmouth umpires, but he really was inconsistent both ways. It’s hard as a pitcher to know where the strike zone is. She was struggling there, but she kept them off-balanced with her off-speed and changeups.”

Through the first five innings, Torres threw 35 strikes and 15 balls. But in the last two frames, she threw 22 strikes and 19 balls, walked three, allowed two hits and hit a batter.

“The stats say it right there,” said Blanck. “The stats tell my frustration, and also their frustration too because he was consistently bad for both sides.”

“We told them that they needed to lock in in their particular zone,” said Tamayo. “If it’s not in their zone, you just let the ball go. A lot of those close pitches that we were swinging at, we would let go and then we would focus on the pitches to hit in their zone.”

Although Remi Martinez, one of four freshmen pitchers for the Huskies, allowed just one hit, she had to get out one jam after another. She walked sophomore center fielder Alea Medina to begin the bottom of the first before getting junior shortstop Irma Gonzalez to hit into a double play.

In the second, Remi Martinez walked Torres on four pitches with none out and junior second baseman Allisiah Valenzuela advanced her with a beautiful push bunt that got past Jorrin for a single. But with Torres on third after a groundout from junior catcher Arianna Franco, a double play ended that scoring chance.

Remi Martinez walked junior left fielder Jazlynn Jara to lead off the third, but she would be stranded at third and in the next inning with two outs, Noone dove to her right to snare a sure hit from Valenzuela. A double play stopped another scoring threat in the fifth and with two outs in the sixth, Remi Martinez walked Gonzalez, who stole second before junior third baseman Vanessa Soto’s flyout kept it a scoreless game. J.W. North’s hurler needed five pitches in the last inning to preserve the shutout.

“I tried to get the girls ready because the two prior games, the [opposing] pitcher barely threw 50 miles per hour,” said Blanck. “So, coming into this game, we had to make that adjustment, and we only had a day to do it, but on the pitching machines.

“We knew it was going to be a pitcher’s duel,” he later said. “Once [Tamayo] was assessing my pitcher, I was looking at his pitcher because we had not seen any stats on her. My defense was rock solid; they were good. They were so good, they came through.”

“I think they were flustered a little bit, maybe unexpected,” said Tamayo of his hitters. “We don’t know them; we’ve never seen them before. So, we didn’t know what to expect. She was good. It just took a minute for us to see her a little bit, and even then, we didn’t hit her hard. We rely on our speed game as well. Our speed game is what really helped us today.”

The Pioneers, with six juniors, three sophomores and two seniors on their roster, were hoping to advance to the program’s first trip to the divisional finals. In fact, Artesia had not reached the second round since 1992 when it fell to South Hills High 2-0 in the 3-A division and only once had it played in the quarterfinals. That occurred in 1984 when the Pioneers were blanked by Hoover High 3-0 in a 3A contest.

Artesia, which had gone 5-11 as recent as 2016 for, at least the program’s 19th straight losing season, was hoping to win 17 games in a season for the second time since 2017.

“This is my fifth year and I’ve been working so hard,” said Blanck. “I was the assistant coach to Dayna and…had to leave. Ever since, I’ve tried to build and build and build.

“I just need two more key players [because] I’m losing two seniors and hopefully I’ll find them through the junior varsity team,” he later added. “The team that we just played had four or five freshmen. Their pitcher was a freshman, so maybe I’ll get lucky next year and get a superstar.”