Lady Highlanders battle but fall short
By Erik Markus
La Habra Journal
The La Habra Highlanders softball team lost in a 1-0 heartbreaker that went 12 innings.
Highlanders’ Janelle Rodriguez stepped to the circle to face division one recruit Meehra Nelson’s Westlake Warriors in the first round of CIF playoffs.
The two pitchers looked dominant from the start, setting the stage for this marathon match.
“It’s two quality pitchers, getting after it, it’s mano a mano, and those are the games you play for,” Westlake head coach John Ashley said.
“Anything for your team, you’ll do,” Rodriguez said about pitching into the 12th inning.
But as the innings added up one pitcher seemed unfazed while the other showed signs of fatigue.
“It’s fine right now, I could probably go a couple more,” Nelson said about the strength of her arm.
Janelle Rodriguez faltered first in the 12th inning, after she gave up a one out single.
Abbey Hayes reached with a single. Rodriguez then threw a pitch that slipped inside to hit Morgan Melito on the leg, and walked Sarah Ho to load the bases.
“In that last inning, I don’t know, everything just overcame me, the 12th inning, zero zero ballgame, just nervous,” Rodriguez said.
Westlake, (20-9), remained patient and drew a second walk to bring in the winning run.
“It was a battle of attrition,” Ashley said. “The first team to make a mistake, first pitcher to gas, that’s the team that will probably end up losing the game.”
The Highlanders kept their hopes alive when Rodriguez made Nelson ground back to her. Rodriguez fielded the ground ball quickly cutting down the runner at the plate, then Nikki Butler caught Ho slightly off third, and was tagged out by Amanda Akles.
“We just happened to get lucky at the end, she ran out of gas, and the zone got a little smaller, and we got a run out of it,” Ashley said.
The Highlanders were unable to generate any offense against Nelson as she collected her 23rd strikeout of the day.
“She put it in the right spots, and she made our batters guess, I think we got a little too much in our head,” Gomez said.
The Warriors decided to rest Nelson in preparation for this game with the expectation she would need to carry them.
“She’s the beginning and the end for us, we win and lose with her,” Ashley said about Nelson, “this kid has the mentality, has the edge, has the metal to get that done.”
At one point, Ashley pinch hit for Nelson, just to give her a few extra minutes to rest.
The Highlanders stranded multiple runners in scoring position but Nelson had a knack for striking out batters at the most important times.
“Both teams were fighters, and we fought till what, 12 innings,” Gomez said.
Amanda Akles nearly broke up the tie early with a shot to left, but the ball curled foul just before it reached the fence.
In the ninth inning, two Highlanders hit long fly balls out to center field, neither were able to find grass.
In the 11th inning, Rodriguez drove a pitch to the left field gap after she fouled a pitch off of her foot.
Rodriguez was held at first with two outs, but was left there after Butler struck out looking.
Rodriguez had a stellar afternoon holding the Warriors to just the one run with 14 strikeouts.
“She was determined and she was ready to pitch an awesome game, and that’s exactly what she did,” Gomez said.
“I actually loved seeing them trying to hit the ball and seeing the strikeouts, playing against them was just awesome,” Rodriguez said.
For the Highlanders, who finished 19-9, it’s a tough way to end after contending for a league title and getting knocked out in the first round, but they return 12 of 16 varsity players.
In their starting lineup against Westlake were three seniors, four juniors, one sophomore, and one freshman, with a sophomore designated player.
“I want to just kill a team in the first round, and then just, I want it to happen, next year,” Rodriguez said.