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CIF-SS DIV. IV SOFTBALL PLAYOFFS – Banda bounces back from shaky first inning as Norwalk rallies for walk-off win

The Norwalk High softball team, moments after scoring three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning against Covina High in a 5–4 victory. It would be Norwalk’s last home game of the season, where the Lancers went 9-4. PHOTO BY LOREN KOPFF.

May 7, 2024

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on X

It wasn’t the start senior pitcher Jalynn Banda or her Norwalk High softball team was anticipating when the Lancers hosted Covina High in a CIF-Southern Section Division 4 first round playoff game last Thursday. Banda served up a three-run home run to Maya Venegas on the 12th pitch of the game and the defense made three miscues through the first three innings.

But Banda settled down and gave her offense the opportunity to come back, which it did as Norwalk scored four times in the final three innings with Banda collecting two hits, including the game-tying knock as the hosts edged Covina 5-4. The win sent the second place team from the Mid-Cities League to a 19-7 mark as it visited J.W. North High this past Tuesday.

“We left a couple of runners on base previously, and they knew they had an opportunity to get those runs in,” said Norwalk head coach Fred Perez. “We just had to make sure we got that big hit, which we got in the last two innings.”

“I felt like I was already under pressure and because it’s my senior year, I put more pressure on myself,” said Banda. “But I knew at the end of the day, I just had to do a job. It’s a team effort, not just a me effort.”

With Norwalk trailing 4-1, Banda took an 0-2 pitch from Lexi Sumpter and sent it down the left field line to begin the bottom of the sixth inning. Two batters later, a fielder’s choice from sophomore first baseman Nayeli Sanchez scored junior courtesy runner Janii McGarrah. Norwalk would leave two runners on base but in the seventh, it made sure it would cash in on more opportunities.

Sumpter walked senior shortstop Amarie Encarnacion on four straight balls and hit senior third baseman Kendall Nakano on the next pitch. Then on a 2-0 count, junior catcher Jezrael Acosta singled to right to bring home Encarnacion. Banda would take Sumpter’s first pitch to center this time, scoring Nakano to tie the game. Next up was junior right fielder Diana Avina, who singled on the first pitch she saw, plating Banda and the game-winner. Sumpter threw 10 pitches to five batters in the inning.

“Diana has been really working with us; [spending] a lot of extra time in the cages working on her batting,” said Norwalk assistant coach Keith Nakano. “She noticed she was doing a couple of hiccups that she normally does. In this last inning, I said you have another opportunity and to make the adjustment that we were talking about that she had asked me in the dugout. She stayed behind the ball and drove it exactly where she pitched her.”

“All I could think about was I had to get on base, no matter if I get walked or no matter if I get hit,” said Banda. “No matter what happened, I just had to be a teammate and get on base. Usually what I try to do is hit the first [pitch] because as a pitcher, I know that the first [pitch] tends to be a strike. I knew that was my best choice and when I got up there, she threw a strike and I hit it.”

After Banda allowed the home run to Venegas, she struck out the next three batters and four of the next five before Isabell Ramirez singled to lead off the top of the third inning. Following two straight errors, the latter bringing in Ramirez, Banda would retire seven straight and allowed just one runner to reach base the remainder of the contest. Banda threw 102 pitches, struck out 10 and did not walk a batter. It was her ninth game this season of striking out at least 10 batters and pushed her season total to 193.

“It is frustrating because I know we [have] a better defense than what we [showed] in the first couple of innings,” said Banda. “But I knew we just had to put a little heat under our butts. After that, I felt like we got hyped and we knew what we had to do.”

“She’s been our ace all season on the mound,” said Perez. “She does that every game. We just have to make sure we play behind her.”

Norwalk got on the board in the bottom of the first inning as Kendall Nakano launched a home run over the left field fence with one out. It was her team-leading 17th home run of the season, matching her total from last season, which is tied for third in the state this season. In her next two at-bats, she sent deep balls to right field and center field which were caught at the fence.

“We’re lucky enough that we have two MVP’s on this team,” said Perez. “One on the mound and one at third base. We’ve relied on them the whole season just to help guide this team. So, they show it on the field with their effort and in the dugout.”

After Acosta singled on the next pitch following the home run, Sumpter retired the next six straight batters. But from the second inning to the seventh, the Lancers left half a dozen on base and were hitless in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position.

“We talked about the last three outs are the hardest outs to get,” said Keith Nakano. “And being that we needed to change our approach at bat, they became a little bit more aggressive, and they made some adjustments at the plate. It’s what we’ve been practicing, and it worked out.”

Still, Norwalk was dominant with its offense as the first five batters went a combined nine for 17 with all five runs scored and four runs batted in.

“We have a lot of underclassmen who haven’t played in the playoffs,” said Perez. “They really had a lot of strong feelings about trying to impress the seniors or the upperclassmen. We told them they had to continue to play through and we prevailed because they continued to play through and not dwell on the errors that they made early in the game.”

Norwalk would fall to J.W. North High 7-6 in eight innings this past Tuesday as the Lancers blew leads of 2-1, 5-2 and 6-5. The Huskies tied the game at 6-6 with two outs in the bottom of the seventh and two outs in the bottom of the eighth. The Lancers conclude the season at 19-8 and in the past three seasons, they have gone 56-22 with a trip to the quarterfinals.