Lady Highlanders edge Sonora in crosstown match

By Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal

Senior Nicole Demille connects for the Lady Highlanders in their win over Sonora Thursday.
Senior Nicole Demille connects for the Lady Highlanders in their win over Sonora Thursday.
In a game that featured six home runs, the La Habra softball team outmuscled city rival Sonora to a 6-4 victory at La Habra High, Thursday afternoon.

The Lady Highlanders pounded four home runs and never trailed as they remained a game back of Sunny Hills in the Freeway League standings. Sonora dropped to 1-3 in league play.

“It doesn’t matter the sport, Sonora and La Habra is always a good game,” said Frank McCarroll, La Habra coach. “Offensively, we’re struggling a little bit and a part of it is the young team, but we got timely hitting today, which we really haven’t had over the course of the season.”

Racquel and Camille Manzo, Nikki Butler and Amanda Akles all homered for La Habra, as all of its runs were scored by home run.

Kianna Scott and Madison Gimpl went deep for Sonora. Scott led the Lady Raiders offense with two hits and three RBI.

All six home runs were hit between left and center field, a sign that strong winds blowing from behind home plate may have proved beneficial.

Racquel Manzo put the Lady Highlanders up with her solo home run in the bottom of the first inning. In the second inning, Nikki Butler’s two-run shot to left field made it 3-0.

After the Lady Raiders scored in the fourth inning, Sonora starter Sarah Hauke gave up a solo home run to Camille Manzo, which put La Habra back up by three runs in the fifth inning.

Hauke came into the matchup having thrown 141 pitches just two days prior in an 11-inning battle with Sunny Hills.

“She had one day off to come back from that, so she was a little fatigued and she left the ball up a bit,” said Michelle Rodriguez, Sonora coach. “It’s not an excuse because we still need her to do what she does, but unfortunately the two balls that were up were big.”

La Habra threatened to stretch the lead further in the bottom of the fourth inning, but Sonora center fielder Leandra Jew’s strong throw home beat Akles as she was tagged by catcher Audrey Castro.

Sensing that time was running out, the Lady Raiders began to figure out Lady Highlander’s starter Vanessa Ciocatto.

With runners on first and second in the fourth inning, Scott recorded a third consecutive base hit for Sonora, which scored Katie Amaral.

“Leandra’s play was huge, it was a momentum changer,” Rodriguez said. “For us to come right back and get a run after shutting them down, was a huge key to staying in the game. We also got a bit more aggressive at the plate, sometimes we come out too timid and take too many strikes, I thought they adjusted well today.”

In the sixth inning, Sonora (6-10, 1-3) collected three more hits off Ciocatto, including Scott’s two-run homer to center, which cut La Habra’s lead down to one run at 4-3.

However, Sonora’s momentum was halted when Butler, La Habra’s freshman catcher, caught Castro trying to steal second base to end the inning.

“I thought that play helped us out the most,” McCarroll said. “Not knocking any of the other catchers we’ve had recently, but Nikki’s the best one we’ve had in a while.”

The Lady Highlanders then had a response. After a leadoff single by Racquel Manzo, Akles launched her two-run homer to deep left field, putting La Habra back up 6-3.

Gimpl made it 6-4 with a one-out solo home run in the seventh inning, but Ciocatto induced two fly ball outs, one on a sharp liner to right field, to preserve the victory.

The Lady Highlanders (14-9, 3-1), who maintain their second-place standing in the Freeway League, will head out to face Troy on the road, Tuesday.

“We’re still trying to figure out an approach at the plate with our team,” McCarroll said. “Once they figure out that what we’re telling them isn’t that bad and with their abilities, we should be okay.”

Sonora, which has lost three league games by a combined five runs, will host Buena Park, Tuesday.

“This is one of the first games in a long time that we’ve played clean defensively,” Rodriguez said. “Now we just have to put it all together.”

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