_____________________________ ST. NORBERT CHURCH           RATES ________________________         EBOOK


MID-CITIES LEAGUE SOFTBALL – Norwalk wastes Banda’s stellar pitching performance as Paramount wins Mid-Cities League

April 24, 2024

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on X                                                 

When the Norwalk High softball team won the Mid-Cities League last season, it was the first outright league title in over 25 seasons for the Lancers. After sharing the Suburban League crowns in 2009 and 2016, Norwalk needed a win over Paramount High last Thursday to ensure a share of the Mid-Cities League’s top spot.

But Clarissa Noriega outdueled senior Jalynn Banda in the circle, limiting the Lancers to just three hits, tied for the third worst offensive output of the season, in a 3-0 shutout. The win gave the Pirates their first league title since 2004 when they won the San Gabriel Valley League with a 9-1 mark. The previous season, Paramount tied Warren High for first place in the SGVL at 8-2.

“They’re a great team,” said Norwalk head coach Fred Perez. “They came out and handled their business. They have a great group out there.”

“We’re super excited,” said Paramount head coach Rocky Colenzo. “This is the first time we’ve won [a] league [title] in a lot of years. We have a very young and talented team that just came out and played their heart out today. They knew what was on the line; they knew they had to come out and beat Norwalk in their own house, and it’s really tough to play here with the music and the turf. We faced one of the best pitchers in the league. She’s the pitcher of the year and we were able to score three runs on her.”

Paramount had edged the Lancers 4-3 on Mar. 26, ending Norwalk’s 12-game winning streak in Mid-Cities League action and 14 overall dating back to when the Suburban League was still around. Norwalk began the final week of the regular season two games back with two to play.

Banda began the game retiring the first seven batters she saw before Mia Flores reached on an infield single. The Pirates thought they had something going when a sacrifice bunt from Valeria De La O resulted in her reaching on an error with two on and one out. But Banda struck out Leah Magana and got Alice Quiroa to hit into a fielder’s choice to end that threat. However, Norwalk wouldn’t be as fortunate in the top of the fourth inning.

Jasmin McHenry led off with a triple to the left field gap and Banda walked Laritza Esparza on a seven-pitch at-bat. After striking out Noriega, a groundout from Daniela Flores plated McHenry and the only run needed in the contest. Banda would strikeout the next three batters and four of the next five before running into more trouble.

She walked McHenry with one out in the sixth and served up a single to Esparza. Both would steal their respective bases and after striking out Noriega again, Banda walked Flores to load the bases. But Abbey Sotelo reached on a throwing error on a 1-2 count, allowing McHenry and Esparza to account for some insurance.

Offensively, Norwalk was unable to do much as five runners reached base with only one of them getting to third base. With one out in the bottom of the first, Noriega walked senior shortstop Amarie Encarnacion, who stole second. But the Paramount hurler would strikeout the next three she faced and retired four straight before senior third baseman Kendall Nakano blooped a double in front of the right fielder.

Noriega sat down another eight in a row before hitting Nakano with one out in the sixth but responded with three straight strikeouts. With two outs in the last inning, junior catcher Jezrael Acosta doubled to the left field gap and sophomore second baseman Jaslene Pelayo singled to center. But on the play, McHenry threw a perfect strike to Quiroa who tagged Acosta at home plate on a close call to end the game.

“The last two to three weeks, all we’ve been practicing is running first to third [and] second to home,” said Perez. “I was confident in her; I sent her, and I thought it was a good opportunity to get that first run on the board. But the call didn’t go our way.”

Still, the story of the game was in the circle. Noriega needed 88 pitches to strikeout nine, walk one and give up three hits while Banda labored throughout the game but still struck out 15 batters, allowed four hits and walked three. She threw a first-pitch strike 16 times and came back from falling behind 2-1 to strikeout four batters early in the game.

“It was a great pitching duel,” said Perez. “On our end, we had to make sure we put the ball in play; we had to get hits. It’s hard to score anything if you’re not getting people on base.

“She pitched like she usually does,” he later said. “Paramount did a great job laying off those two-strike pitches. They had long battles with her; they made her pitch a lot of extra pitches. But Paramount did great job at the plate. I’m very proud that I was able to coach her. I’ve seen her from her freshman year all the way to her senior year and just seeing her develop during those years has been amazing. I haven’t seen anybody with that many pitches and able to execute them.”

“We had a gameplan coming in; we’ve faced these hitters for years and we know their swings,” said Colenzo. “[Noriega] was trying to keep the ball down and away; not giving them too much to hit, and she’s just got ice in her veins. She’s a very seasoned pitcher and came out and pitched her heart out.”

Norwalk bounced back to defeat Bellflower High 13-3 this past Tuesday to improve to 17-7, 7-2 and went to Dominguez High on Apr. 25 to end the regular season. The CIF-Southern Section playoff brackets will be released on Saturday morning and Division 4 postseason play begins on Tuesday with wild card action and Thursday with first round action. Norwalk lost at home in the first round last season but advanced to the quarterfinals in 2016, 2018 and 2022. The Lancers would need to win twice in the playoffs to record just the second 20-win season in program history.

“It was a good season,” said Perez. “Our goal is to make sure we finish up our two games with wins. But we had some injuries and we had other key players who were lost, too. We’re just trying to make up for putting players in different positions where they don’t usually play.”