Heated rivalries bring out the best of teams, and that was certainly the case for Millikan softball on Thursday night at Lisa Fernandez Field. The Rams were sharp in all facets of the game during a 4-0 win over Lakewood that gets Millikan back in the running for the Moore League championship.
“It’s just that hometown rivalry,” Millikan alum and coach Akemi Fleming said. “Off the field we’re friends and on the field we can’t stand each other. This game under these lights is a totally different feel than any other game we play. We don’t set it up like this for no reason. This rivalry is deep down in my blood and I’ve been trying to give these girls the same energy.”
“That’s the thing between us and Millikan, no matter how good or bad we are it’s just always a tough game,” Lakewood coach Andy Miramontes said. “Hats off to them they beat us fair and square. They made some great defensive plays. We had our chances early but we just didn’t capitalize.”
In the circle, Millikan sophomore Victoria Byrum pitched a complete game shutout by fearlessly pounding the strike zone. She scattered eight hits and didn’t walk a batter while collecting four strikeouts.
“(My plan) was just to focus and stay calm because I know (Lakewood dugout) talks a lot,” Byrum said. “I just wanted to pitch strikes and rely on my infield and outfield to have my back.”
Behind Byrum the Millikan defense was nearly flawless. Shortstop Emily Hanniff made a pair of diving catches early to quell Lakewood threats, and center fielder Grace Flemming made a phenomenal diving catch in the seventh inning to help keep the Lancers off the scoreboard.
“To be honest I knew the last inning was going to be rough,” Flemming said. “I’ve had a long history with Lakewood as a senior, and I just felt it in my gut that it was going to come to me. I saw it and I was like, ‘Now is the time to shine,’ and I did it.”
At the plate, Millikan was efficient with two important sacrifice fly RBI from Ari Ramirez and Shorty Wright. Erica Estrada had three hits in the nine hole, including a triple to lead off the fifth inning, and she scored twice.
“It definitely was an offensive breakout,” Estrada said. “We had that tough loss against Wilson and a hard game against Poly, and our bats weren’t alive in those games. This game they really woke up. I think it’s going to be a good season ahead of us.”
“We had a lot to lose in this game,” coach Flemming said. “It was kind of a do or die for us. We’ve been dying for this game. They really wanted it today.”
After Byrum stranded five runners in the first two innings, Millikan took the lead by scoring twice in the third inning. Estrada led off with a single, and after another single from Hanniff, she came home on an RBI single form Ava Schaffel. Hanniff moved to third on the play, and scored on an sacrifice fly off the bat of Ramirez.
The Rams padded their lead in the fifth inning when Estrada led off with a triple in the gap, and scored on Wright’s sac fly. They capped the scoring in the sixth inning thanks to a Lakewood error and RBI single by catcher Lily Romero. Byrum also gave Romero credit for her work behind the plate.
“Before the pitch was even called I relied on (Romero) to just frame for me,” Byrum said. “She really helped me out a lot and did a great job back there. (The win) is a huge step for us and brings us back our confidence. I feel like it will push us a bunch.”
The win wasn’t secured until Millikan escaped the seventh inning. Lakewood’s Maddy Mendoza led off with a single, and then Maddy Wynia put a charge into one that found Flemming in center field. The Rams senior came up with a diving catch on a full sprint.
“Her mom is a Millikan alumni and it’s in her blood to hate Lakewood,” coach Flemming said. “It’s her senior year and it’s kind of her time to go big or go home. She definitely went home with a big one. Sometimes she can get into slumps but on defense she really picked it up and really saved our butts.”
The Millikan win means that the Rams, Lancers and Wilson Bruins are all tied atop the league standings with one league loss as the first round of play comes to an end.
“We’ve got another game against them and hopefully that’s a little payback,” Miramontes said.
Lakewood hosts Jordan on Tuesday while Millikan travels to Compton in their next league games. The Rams and Lancers will meet at Lisa Fernandez Field again on May 18.