Lady Raiders battle, but fall to Aliso Niguel in playoffs

By Erik Markus
La Habra Journal

The Lady Raiders battled  Aliso Niguel  from start to finish, but ultimately fell, 7-5 in eight innings.

After falling behind early, the Lady Raiders (12-11-1) evened the score in the fourth. However, the Wolverines (20-8) bit back with four runs, extending their lead to 5-1.Web_LHJ LHHS_SHS Softball_102

Sonora needed to chip away if they were going to keep up with the powerful bats from Aliso Niguel.

“There was no doubt we wanted to fight, that was definitely the goal,we’re out to win, always hungry, always trying to do our best,” Chelsea Purcell said.

Frankie Juarez led off the fifth inning fighting off multiple pitches before ending her at bat with a walk. Gabby Munoz benefited from the prior battle, drawing a walk of her own. However with runners on first and second, the Raiders next two batters failed to drive in any runs.

Purcell stepped to the plate, sensing the moment. She drove a pitch to deep center field. Juarez and Hernandez both scored, but the relay throw from second base went to third instead of home and beat Purcell’s slide into third.

The two-run double cut the Raider deficit in half, but ended the inning.

The sixth inning moved quickly with no runs scored. In the seventh inning, the Raiders led off the inning with a single by Maddy Rodriguez. Juarez followed, slapping a single just inside the left field foul line. With runners on first and second, Munoz sacrificed the runners into scoring position.

With the Raiders needing a break, they got one.  An easy roller to short was picked up, but the throw to first sailed high.  Lauren Blazey advanced to to third.

Blazey sprinted home, and Hernandez took first. Followed with a hard liner to right that scored Juarez, but wasn’t deep enough to avoid her being thrown out at first. With the Raiders now tied, they had their best chance to pull away.

Unfortunately, after giving up a fourth inning solo shot to Purcell, then the double in the fifth, the Wolverines wanted no part of the Raider short stop.

“It’s super frustrating, because as a team captain and as a senior, I want to do everything I can for my team,” Purcell said.

They walked her and then escaped the inning with a grounder from Claudia Kim.

The Wolverines offense was too much for the Raiders, who led off the eighth with a single, then a double. With the Raiders trying to prevent runs, with the infield in, Haeley Tran singled up the middle clearing the bases. The two run single was enough for the Wolverines, who shut down the Raiders to lock it up and advance to the next round of playoffs.

After the game, head coach Michelle Rodriguez was very satisfied with the play of her team and their resiliency.

“The fact that they came back and they didn’t give up when they were down by four, all that is so promising for next year,” Rodriguez said.

Purcell finishes her Raider career on a bright note, playing stellar defense all season, and finishing with a solo shot, and nearly a triple. She finished the day with three RBI.

“She finished her career here the way she should,” Rodriguez said.

Sam Casanas pitched well enough to give the Raiders a chance.

“I’m so happy with how consistently she’s been pitching,” Rodriguez said, “She’s understanding and matured so much more, that’s what you want to see your kids do,”

Though Casanas never appeared to lose confidence, Aliso Niguel’s offensive versatility topped the Lady Raiders.

The Wolverines put four on the board in the top of the fifth inning. They led off the inning with a single, but with one out dropped down to textbook bunts to load the bases. They scored two on a double, then two more on a single for their four run outburst.

“When we got the bunts down, the girls behind them knocked them in,” Aliso Niguel head coach Alan Caouette said.

The Wolverines have shown the ability to battle, with wins against Mission Viejo, and a come from behind victory against Dana Hills where they came from being down 8-1, to win 9-8. With this already on their resume, they were uniquely prepared when Sonora staged their comebacks.

“All year long they’ve gotten better, they could have folded up multiple times this season where they wouldn’t have made the playoffs, but they battled back, so I think they have the fire and the intensity to do what it takes,” Caouette said.

Started in 1995, the La Habra Journal is an independent community news source serving the cities of La Habra and La Habra Heights.