Lady Highlanders best rival Sonora behind Rodriguez’ pitching, team defense
by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
La Habra head coach Frank McCarroll admitted that he felt like he took a bit of a gamble in sending a freshman to the circle to pitch against his team’s biggest rival.
Lady Highlanders’ freshman pitcher Janelle Rodriguez made sure that gamble paid off by pitching a complete game shutout and striking out nine batters as the La Habra softball team defeated Sonora 2-0, Thursday afternoon at Sonora High.
Rodriguez allowed four hits, two walks and a hit-by-pitch, but battled out of three jams with two baserunners.
“I couldn’t have done this without my team, they were behind me throughout the entire game,” Rodriguez said. “The early runs made me feel a little comfortable, but I knew with the girls behind me, I can trust them with anything.”
Both defenses took care of the rest, both coming up with big plays to keep the scoring at a minimum.
The Lady Highlanders put up single runs in the second and third innings, using sacrifice bunts and deep fly balls to manufacture both.
After Nikki Butler was hit by a pitch to open the second inning, pinch-runner Tatyana Peko reached second base on a sacrifice bunt, reached third base on a single by Rodriguez and came home to score when Anela Lopez’ fly ball to center popped out of the glove of Sonora’s Leandra Jew.
The Lady Highlanders (14-8, 3-1) got back-to-back singles to open the third inning, followed by a sacrifice bunt by Racquel Manzo and a sacrifice fly by Amanda Akles, which brought home Jayanna Perez from third base.
“We’ve been struggling at the plate over the last couple games, we haven’t been able to get that timely hit,” McCarroll said. “We stress it in practice, the importance of small ball and sacrifice bunts. If we have a runner on second base with less than two outs, we should be able to get them in.”
Sonora starting pitcher Sam Casanas kept the Lady Highlanders in check for the last four innings. Casanas pitched a complete game, allowing two runs on four hits while striking out four batters, walking two and hitting four batters.
“I feel like it wasn’t her best games, she had the four hit batters, but I don’t think we could have asked anything more from her when you add the pressure of facing your biggest rival,” said Michelle Rodriguez, Sonora head coach. “We couldn’t have asked more from her. I thought the defense played really well.”
Janelle Rodriguez had to battle out of a shaky first inning before settling in and trusting in her defense. With one out, Taylor Clark and Katie Amaral hit back-to-back singles to put runners on first and second base.
However, Chelsea Purcell grounded into a fielders’ choice at third base, but Manzo’s throw to first for the double play sailed over the glove of Akles. The Lady Highlanders recovered and threw out Amaral, who attempted to retreat back to third base.
“We had our opportunities early on, it just didn’t seem like we had the timely hitting and they did,” Michelle Rodriguez said. “We thought we had a shot from Katie [Amaral], but their center fielder made a great play. We struck out too much, we took too many swings at balls out of the strike zone, but she kept us off-balance.”
Amaral led off the fourth inning with a single and reached third base on a passed ball, but was stranded there when Ashley Diaz flied out to right field to end the inning.
But the big play came with two outs in the fifth inning. With runners on first and second base, Amaral hit a line drive to deep center field, but center-fielder Perez made an over-the-shoulder catch in front of the fence to end the threat.
“[Rodriguez] was in control, the only ball we were worried about was the line drive to center field,” McCarroll said. “We didn’t think it was going out, but Perez made a great play.”
Amaral led the Lady Raiders with two hits. The top three batters in Sonora’s lineup reached base a combined six times.
Perez, La Habra’s leadoff hitter, went 2-for-3 with a run scored and also reached on a walk.
La Habra will move on to play Buena Park at home next Tuesday, while Sonora (10-9, 2-2) has a crucial matchup on the road against Sunny Hills.
“We just need a win,” Michelle Rodriguez said. “That’s it. No excuses, we have goals that we have set for ourselves and if we want to accomplish those, we’re going to have to beat Sunny Hills.”