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605 LEAGUE SOFTBALL – Cerritos blows game wide open in fourth inning to give Whitney its worst loss of season

Cerritos high school logo, don

March 20, 2024

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on X

This was supposed to be the season where the Cerritos High softball team potentially takes a step back, sees its reign in the 605 League come to an end and finishes in third place, or below. This was supposed to be the season where the Whitney High softball team moves towards the upper half of the league and advances to the CIF-Southern Section playoffs for the first time since 2019.

The latter is still in sights but as it relates to the former, it continues to be business as usual as the Dons blew out Whitney 11-0 this past Tuesday for their third straight shutout this season and fourth in the past five games. in addition, Cerritos notched its ninth straight victory over the Wildcats since the league was formed and have outscored the Wildcats 141-7 in those games with five shutouts.

“I don’t know if anything has changed,” said Cerritos head coach Todd Denhart. “We’re 2-0 [in league] but talk to me in 10 days because we can be 2-3. Oxford Academy is 17-0 [overall] and the number one team in Division 7, which I know is Division 7. But they’re in Division 7 because of their last four years. They have four freshmen over there [with] one in the circle. If you get a kid in the circle, things can change in a hurry.”

Whitney, which dropped to 7-4 overall, 0-2 in league, suffered their worst loss and failed to score for the first time this season. In the first nine games, the Wildcats scored at least 11 runs six times.

“Definitely, the hard work is paying off,” said Whitney head coach Stephanie Machado. “It’s been a slow process, but each year, we’re just trying to get better day by day, game by game. We knew coming in that Cerritos would be a hard team and we were really happy to stick with them for three and a half innings. That to me is a win in my books.”

The Dons grabbed a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning when senior first baseman Natalie Gardea tripled to right field and scored on a groundout from junior catcher Alianna Calderon. In the next inning, junior shortstop Michelle Meza and sophomore second baseman Ava Ceron each singled and advanced on a passed ball. Meza would come home on a groundout from senior center fielder Presley Hendrix and Ceron made it 3-0 on a single from junior left fielder Anaya Granflor.

Whitney was putting something together in the top of the third inning when Cerritos senior pitcher Kylee Manibusan walked sophomore catcher Olachi Anyama and gave up a base hit to senior second baseman Kristen Sutton, the number nine hitter in the lineup. Senior center fielder Andrea Victoria then reached on a fielder’s choice with Anyama out at third. However, Sutton would be caught stealing which proved to be a critical out because Manibusan walked junior pitcher Monicka Manni. Instead of bases loaded with one out, there were runners on first and second with two outs. Senior third baseman Mariana Botello would ground out to end the threat and the ‘Cats would get one runner on base over the next two innings.

“We’ve been looking at being more aggressive, especially with teams like Cerritos,” said Machado. “You have to take what you can get, and I was noticing that being the lefty catcher, [Calderon] was turning the opposite way. So, Kristen took that chance. To me, she got under the tag from my angle. But that’s not what was called. I think I would still make that call just because with a team like Cerritos, you have to make your chances because they’re not going to make the errors.”

Cerritos added a run in its half of the third inning, then sent 11 batters to the plate in the fourth inning, scoring seven runs on four hits and three errors to make sure the Wildcats wouldn’t have a chance to extend the contest to a sixth inning. Junior Lana Javier, who recently was called up from the junior varsity team, had a two-run triple. She would score when senior third baseman Toafaoalii Pua reached on an error, singling the end of Manni’s time in the circle.

“I like her; I like her in the circle,” said Denhart of Manni. “She’s a little competitor, she’s hitting her spots and I think we made a couple of adjustments in the second and third time through the lineup. We capitalized on a couple of errors, and it is what it is. I don’t think she did a bad job. I like her.”

Anyama replaced Manni and was greeted with a single from Gardea and a double from Calderon. Pua was making a rare appearance in the leadoff spot while the next five batters in the lineup went a combined seven of 15 with seven runs scored and four RBI.

“I tried to shuffle the lineup around today,” said Denhart. “I don’t know if I’ll do it again. [Pua] has never led off and I actually sent her a text early this morning [telling her], ‘when you see the lineup, don’t freak out. You’re leading off today’. I’m just trying to get her [more at-bats]. Glenn pitched around her [on Mar. 15] and it’s easier to do that if you don’t have somebody hitting behind her that anybody fears, which I understand.”

Whitney, which was denied a win, for now, this past Monday when its game at Loara High was called in the top of the fifth inning due to lightning and the Wildcats up 14-2, host Pioneer High on Friday and will be home to John Glenn High on Tuesday before enjoying some well-deserved time off until Apr. 9.

The seven victories are two more than last season’s production and this is the best season the program has had since 2019 when the ‘Cats went 15-9. If they get at least four more wins, they will end the regular season with a winning record and put themselves in a position for an at-large berth in the playoffs.

“The [Division 6] in general was a surprise for us,” said Machado. “We only had five wins last year, so getting pushed up a division was a little bit weird. We set our games based on the year before, so that’s why we picked other fellow Division 6 teams. If we can get a few [more] wins, this is the chance to do it because we do have six seniors that we’ve been kind of molding for the last few years.”

Cerritos, which defeated Oxford Academy 13-3 this past Wednesday, went to 8-1, 3-0 as it will host Artesia High on Tuesday in the front end of a home and home series with the Pioneers. The second game will be on Thursday, before the Dons take a break from league action until Apr. 9. The fact that Denhart’s team is 8-1 is something in itself considering it went into a scrimmage game against North Torrance High with a dozen players. But some injuries have made the team smaller and only 10 players suited up against Whitney.

“I don’t use the whole next person up mentality,” said Denhart. “But yeah, if somebody gets hurt, somebody has to fill in. People are going to get their opportunity and they need to take advantage of it. Hey, it’s their job and if they don’t take advantage of it, we go to the next person.”