By Jason Burch
La Habra Journal
Behind Hannah Johnson’s 13-strikeout pitching performance, the Lady Highlanders softball team defeated Rio Mesa 4-2 in Thursday’s quarterfinal game.
Johnson allowed only one run and recorded every single out in the game, despite being replaced to begin the sixth inning.
Harley Wells entered the game and faced two batters, but gave up back to back singles. Head Coach Steve Harrington quickly made the change back to Johnson after the latter single got past the centerfielder and rolled to the fence, bringing Rio Mesa to within one run at 3-2.
Harrington said the move to bring in Wells was an attempt to change up the pace and give Rio Mesa a little bit of a different look.
“I thought I would try to change it up a little bit, but for whatever reason it didn’t quite pan out for us today,” Harrington said. “More often than not Harley is effective, very rarely does that happen, so I will just look at it as a fluke.”
Johnson got back into the circle and retired the next three Rio Mesa batters in a row, striking out a pair.
“Hannah has really got a great mindset,” Harrington said. “She is welcoming the challenge and we are riding her coattails.”
The Lady Highlanders quickly regained the momentum in the bottom half of the sixth.
Johnson led off the inning and was hit by a pitch. After her pinch runner advanced on a sacrifice bunt, Kira Cauley stepped up with an RBI single to bring in the game’s final run and give La Habra some breathing room heading into the final inning.
Johnson allowed a pair of hits in the seventh to the same duo responsible for Rio Mesa’s first score, Kiana Abellera and Taise Thompson. With the tying run in scoring position, Johnson got Jocelyn Soto to flyout deep to centerfield, allowing the La Habra crowd to collectively exhale.
Despite the threat Rio Mesa presented in the seventh, Johnson’s teammates were confident she would close the game out strong.
“When she came out and struck out the first three batters, I knew [Johnson] was ready today,” Cauley said.
Cauley was the offensive catalyst for La Habra. In the first inning, she walked and stole third base, one of her three steals on the day. Nikki Butler singled to bring Cauley home and give the Lady Highlanders an early lead.
“Kira has been on fire for us,” Harrington said.
“We want to win this whole thing, so I just have to stay in there for my team,” Cauley said.
Rio Mesa answered in the third inning with back to back singles from Abellera and Thompson to tie the game.
“They started catching up a little bit, but I just kept doing my job,” Johnson said.
La Habra battled back to take the lead for good in the bottom of the fourth inning. Johnson, helped herself with a leadoff double and came home on a Jayanna Perez RBI single. After Cauley Walked, runners were on the corners when they successfully pulled off a delayed double steal to extend the lead.
La Habra will next take on the No. 4 seed Valley View in the semifinal game at Moreno Valley.
“Where we are at right now, everybody is going to give us their best game and that is what these kids have had to learn, and they have learned,” Harrington said. “In my opinion they have the complete makeup of what a team should be… they listen to criticism well, support each other, and hold each other accountable, it’s been a marvelous experience.”