Lady Highlanders edge out Peninsula, advance to CIF semifinals
By Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
ROLLING HILLS ESTATES—Despite being in a higher division, the results for the La Habra softball team remain the same as it advances to the CIF-SS Division 3 semifinals after a 1-0 road victory over Palos Verdes Peninsula, Thursday afternoon.
Adjustments were key for La Habra offensively, as evidenced by Amanda Akles, who figured out Peninsula starting pitcher Cassie Lajeunesse and hit a leadoff solo home run in the top of the seventh inning.
“I knew we needed one run going into that at-bat and I just wanted to get on with a base hit,” Akles said. “Off the bat I knew it was gone, after rounding first base and seeing the ball go over, it was an amazing feeling. I knew the circle was handled for the final three outs.”
One run was enough for starting pitcher Vanessa Ciocatto (20-7), who pitched a complete game shutout, allowing five hits while striking out 12 batters without allowing a walk.
The senior was dominant in the circle and kept Peninsula off balance using four different pitches and working both inside and outside. The strikeout total was two off of her season best.
“Going into every CIF game, I keep telling myself it’s not going to be my last,” Ciocatto said. “They were free-swinging at a lot of stuff, so I was really moving it outside and inside, sometimes I threw my off-speed to keep them from getting good contact.”
Lajeunesse (14-5) matched Ciocatto through six innings, utilizing the outside part of the plate to La Habra’s all right-handed lineup.
Peninsula (18-11) put Ciocatto in a jam in the second inning when Kristyne Hong and Camille Zuliani hit consecutive base hits with one out. Katie Holcomb followed with a sacrifice bunt to advance the runners.
However, Megan Kelly-slatten lined out to Hope Moreno at second base to end the threat.
Both teams had chances in the third inning, starting with La Habra, which had runners on first and second bases with no one out.
However, Nicole DeMille popped out on a bunt attempt, Frankie Mendoza flied out to left and Camille Manzo struck out to end the threat.
In the bottom half, Peninsula leadoff hitter Brooke Vines reached second base with one out, but Ciocatto responded by striking out the next two batters to end that threat.
“They put together a couple hits and I knew I had to get out of it,” Ciocatto said. “I had to keep us in the game because we were both throwing well and all we needed was one run.”
Frank McCarroll had an additional assessment of Ciocatto, who picked up her 20th victory of the season.
“She’s been outstanding all season long,” he said. “She’s been the ultimate senior leader on and off the field and I couldn’t ask for more.”
Both pitchers took over from there, matching each other until Akles’ home run in the seventh inning.
Ciocatto retired 14 consecutive batters after a leadoff single in the third inning. She retired 15 of the last 16 she faced.
“We hit the ball hard and [Peninsula] played great defense, they took some hits away from us,” McCarroll said. “We knew we would keep putting the bat on the ball and at some point, one of our girls would make a difference. We didn’t make mistakes on defense and we got the run we needed, but they’re a great team.”
Lajeunesse pitched a complete game, allowing one run on three hits while striking out seven batters and walking one.
Vines finished 2-for-3 with two singles.
La Habra (23-8) will move on to the semifinals for the second consecutive season. The Lady Highlanders will host fourth-seeded Righetti, Tuesday afternoon.
“I don’t think the division makes a difference for us,” Ciocatto said. “I believe in our team, we’ll step up to anyone’s level, whether it’s the No. 1 team in the state or the last place team.”