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605 LEAGUE SOFTBALL – Cerritos in complete command of league again as Dons dismantle Artesia with big inning

APRIL 1, 2024

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on X

This was not how the script was to be written for the Artesia High softball team coming into this season. The Pioneers were primed to contend for a 605 League title and knock off mighty Cerritos High, which has owned the league since its inception.

Earlier in the season, Cerritos head coach Todd Denhart was unsure if his team would even make the playoffs. But now, he has his Dons all alone in first place, two games in front of third place Artesia, whom they thrashed 13-3 last Thursday to complete the weekly home and home series. Pioneer High sits in second place with a 2-1 league mark. But with five more league games remaining in the season, Denhart isn’t celebrating anything yet.

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Pioneer has a good squad,” said Denhart. “But we don’t practice like we play. These kids on gameday…they come out to play. But it’s not always that way in practice.”

The 10-run loss left Artesia head coach Ed Blanck baffled, confused and somewhat speechless as just two days prior, the Pioneers had lost to Cerritos 5-1. But in that game, Cerritos senior pitcher Kylee Manibusan threw 148 pitches, walked eight and gave up three hits, including a seventh-inning homerun to junior center fielder Alea Medina. It also didn’t help that Artesia stranded 17 runners on base. Blanck attributed the 13-3 loss to his defense, which made a half a dozen errors with seven of the runs being unearned.

“Todd’s a real smart coach,” he said. “[His batters] couldn’t hit [senior pitcher] Maya [Torres], so they went small ball. I’ve been preparing the girls for that, but they really didn’t react to it today.”

After Medina got things going in the bottom of the first inning with a double to the left field gap, she would score on a one-out groundout from senior pitcher Melissa Mendoza. After that, it would be all Cerritos. In the top of the second, Manibusan took the first pitch she saw and sent it to the left field fence for a double. She would move to third on a sacrifice from senior right fielder Presley Hendrix.

Two pitches later, junior left fielder Anaya Granflor reached on a fielder’s choice as Manibusan tied the game. Granflor would be sacrificed to second by junior second baseman Lana Javier and scored on a base hit from sophomore pitcher Ava Ceron, who eventually came home on an error to make it 3-1. After the Dons (10-1, 5-0) added a tally in the third, they blew the game wide open in the fourth by sending a dozen batters up to bat.

With one out, junior shortstop Michelle Meza and senior third baseman Toafaoalii Pua had singles before Manibusan doubled in Pua to make it 6-1. After Torres walked Hendrix, who had sacrificed her second hitter the previous inning, Granflor doubled to the left field gap plated Manibusan and Hendrix.

Torres then walked Javier, singling the end of her time in the circle and Ceron would greet Mendoza with a base hit to load the bases. Two batters later, a base hit from junior catcher Alianna Calderon allowed Javier and Ceron to come home, making it 11-1.

“I have no clue,” said Denhart of the fourth inning explosion. “Going into the week, I was nervous. I didn’t think we could get two from them. I thought if we split with them, it would be a great week. But we ended up taking two. I know they had an error or two in the inning that helped us out. But again, good teams capitalize on that.”

The Pioneers (8-7-1, 3-2) kept the game from ending early because of the mercy rule when Torres led off the bottom of the fourth with a home run over the left center fence. Five pitches later, junior second baseman Kaleyse Foster, a transfer from Lakewood High who was playing in just her third game, also homered to the same spot as Torres. After that, Artesia would collect two more hits, both coming in the fifth inning, and stranded a runner at second base with one out in the seventh.

“They came [into the week] confident but to this game right here, and I let them know, we could do it,” said Blanck. “But as far as all the seniors talking [about beating Cerritos], they were pumping each other up, and they wanted to come, and I’m really surprised of the score.”

“The last few years, we would sit back and wait for somebody to drive the ball in the gap or drive the ball over the fence,” said Denhart. “We’ve had some girls who can just…hey, if you get on base, it’s an automatic double because it doesn’t matter who’s catching. We don’t have that this year. Presley is a great example. Tuesday, she laid down a couple of bunts and today, she laid down a couple of bunts. Then she gets a base hit to the left in her last at-bat. It’s a different team and we have to go about things a little different now.”

Cerritos collected 14 hits with Manibusan getting three of them while Ceron, Granflor, Hendrix, Meza and Pua all pitching in with two hits. Granflor also drove in four runs while Calderon and Ceron had a pair of RBI.

Although Ceron, who was also making her first league start of the season, allowed nine hits, she did not walk anyone in picking up her fourth win of the season.

“She’s pitched before, so it’s not like this is foreign to her,” said Denhart. “The same thing with Kylee. But she just goes out there and she can hit a spot, and that’s a good hitting team and they want to swing the bat; they want to hit the ball hard. I think she does a good job of [throwing off the timing], mixing the ball in and out. She’s done a good job.”

Senior shortstop Irma Gonzalez, Medina and Mendoza combined to go six of 11, but this is now eight straight losses to Cerritos and 48 out of the last 50 meetings since 1999. The only two wins in this stretch came on Mar. 24, 2016 (10-5) and Apr. 9, 2019 (4-3), which begs the question if this has become a mental thing with Artesia softball.

“I want to say no, but yes, and sometimes I can see the reaction,” said Blanck. “Sometimes as soon as they see Cerritos across [the front of the uniform], they get intimidated. I think we are the better ball club. But like I said, Todd is a good coach, and he utilizes what he has.”

The Dons will make up a previously scheduled game at Western High on Monday, then travel to Pioneer High the next day while Artesia visits Whitney High on Tuesday.

“Both pitchers need to rest,” said Denhart. “We don’t have anything scheduled…we have tomorrow off, then Easter break. We’ve got nothing scheduled. I told them take until Wednesday off and then pick up your glove and bat.”

“I’m going to be practicing the defense and get their mindset on not trying to hit the ball over the fence all the time,” said Blanck. “I stress to them there’s a time to try to hit it over the fence and then there’s a time to hit line drives.

“Now my focus is on [making the playoffs],” he continued. “In my practices, I’ll be preparing them for CIF. And I’m not giving the other teams any doubt at all because a lot of teams are improving in our league right now. Second and third place go [to the playoffs]. So, I want to focus on that.”