by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
Going into the final inning of a critical Freeway League game, the La Habra softball team was in danger of suffering the same fate it did in Tuesday’s loss to Sunny Hills.
The Lady Highlanders put up one run in six innings, but stranded seven baserunners as Troy took a 2-1 lead heading into the seventh inning.
But La Habra wasn’t going to be denied and responded with five hits, plating three runs to steal a 4-2 victory from Troy and vault itself back into a four-team tie for first place in the Freeway League.
The Lady Highlanders will host fellow first-place Sonora on Tuesday afternoon.
“At the last minute, we came together as a team and all of a sudden we just burst like a bomb,” said Racquel Manzo, who drove in the game-tying run with a double. “We just showed what we could do on the field as a team, together.”
With one out and pinch-runner Kira Cauley on first base after a single by Anela Lopez, Manzo brought home Cauley with a line drive double to right-center field to tie the game.
Amanda Akles followed with an RBI-double to the exact same location to score Manzo and give the Lady Highlanders the lead. Nikki Butler plated pinch-runner Tatyana Peko to stretch the lead to two runs.
“They hit the ball where we told them,” said Frank McCarroll, La Habra head coach. “All game long, we wanted them to hit the ball either middle or opposite field, it took them three at-bats, but it finally got done…. We needed a spark, we needed something that will get us back on track. Hopefully this is it.”
Relief pitcher Janelle Rodriguez struck out two of the three batters she faced in the bottom half of the seventh inning to preserve the victory.
The big seventh inning made up for the Lady Highlanders’ inability to score runs early on. In each of the first three innings, La Habra stranded two baserunners.
Troy (14-10, 4-4) didn’t fare much better, stranding seven baserunners in the first three innings before both starting pitchers settled down in the fourth inning.
“We left 10 runners on base against Sunny Hills and we had 12 hits against [Troy] the last time we played them, so we’ve been doing this a lot lately,” McCarroll said. “We haven’t put hits together and we haven’t had productive outs. I don’t think we’ve completely gelled as a team yet, I’m hoping we figure it out before playoffs.”
La Habra (16-10, 5-3) struck first in the fifth inning with a run-scoring single by Hope Moreno, which brought Cauley home from third base.
However, Lady Warriors’ starting pitcher Miranda Trinidad helped her own cause with a solo home run to deep center field. After an error allowed another runner to reach base, McCarroll called on Rodriguez to relieve starter Taylor Pierce after five-and-one-thirds innings.
“We’ve had the tandem going and they’re both on a short leash,” McCarroll said. “Taylor did a decent job, but she started leaving the ball up and when she does that, she’s hittable, whereas Janelle does a good job keeping the ball down. She kept us in the game and gave us a chance.”
A crucial two-out RBI infield single by Troy’s Cori Okada put the Lady Warriors up 2-1.
However, La Habra’s big bats at the top of the order were too much for Trinidad and the Lady Warriors as the Lady Highlanders evened up the season series at 1-1.
“We got our runners in late, thankfully,” Manzo said. “We just played like a team and we feel like we’re progressing with every game. I’m really happy about that.”
The Lady Highlanders will host city rival Sonora with a shot at a possible Freeway League title on the line. Both teams are tied atop the standings with Sunny Hills and Fullerton after the Lady Lancers defeated Fullerton to create the jam, Tuesday afternoon.
In addition, La Habra still has another motivating factor.
“We just want to go in and give it everything we’ve got,” Manzo said. “We’re going to play it for Steve [Aanderud].”