The Millikan Rams already knew they were on track to be Moore League champions heading into Tuesday night’s rivalry game against Lakewood, but like any good rivals, the Rams weren’t interested in sharing. Instead, Millikan pulled out an exciting 7-6 win to finish off a season sweep of the Lancers and claim the program’s first outright league championship since 2004.
Millikan head coach Akemi Fleming spoke to the importance of not only guiding her team to a league title (which the Rams haven’t won since their co-championship with Lakewood in 2007), but making sure Millikan stood alone in the record books.
“For us, it’s the fact that we haven’t had this in a while. Since I’ve been here, we haven’t been able to get them one,” said Fleming, now in her fifth season as head coach of her alma mater. “That clearly has been my only goal was to win a league championship. It was a goal for all of us. We knew we didn’t want to share it with Lakewood. If anybody was a team we don’t want to share it with, it’s Lakewood.”
Fleming knows that feeling first-hand, as a senior on the 2005 Millikan team that shared the league title with the Lancers.
“I told (the team), I’ve shared it with Lakewood and it feels like kissing your brother, it’s terrible,’ Fleming joked. “It’s not what you want, you don’t want to have a tie. Taking this championship, and the way we did it, it’s fulfilling. It’s definitely something where, these girls having this moment, is why I do what I do.”
The Rams’ victory was fueled by some clutch hitting from the heart of their lineup. Millikan’s 4 and 5 hitters–Grace Fleming and Lily Romero–reached base seven times combined, scoring five of Millikan’s seven runs on the night.
They both helped set the table for freshman Katie Knarr, who had a big night out of the No. 6 spot in the order. Knarr drove in three runs on the night, smacking a game-tying double in the fifth before plating two with her game-winning double in the top of the seventh. After Lakewood took its first lead of the night in the previous inning, Knarr came through in a big spot with one out in the final inning to put her team back on top.
“I was a little bit nervous at first, but I was just thinking ‘Get the foot down and be quick to the ball,’” Knarr explained after the win. “I was struggling a little bit in the beginning of the season because it’s hard getting used to high school pitching, but I felt very comfortable in my first couple of at-bats. I was a little nervous because it’s a big game and a big environment, but knowing that my team was behind me, that made me feel good.”
Millikan opened up the scoring with three runs in the top of the second, as Fleming and Romero started the rally with a leadoff walk and a double, respectively.
Lakewood immediately responded in the bottom half of the frame, scoring two runs on a bases-loaded double from leadoff batter Brienna Weekes. The Lancers ended up stranding the bases loaded, and left a total of seven runners on base in innings 2-4, with Millikan starting pitcher Victoria Byrum doing well to limit the damage.
“We’re always wishing we’d scored when we had runners in scoring position, but we had some clutch hits tonight,” said Lakewood head coach Andy Miramontes. “I’m proud of the way the girls played. There’s a lot of good competition between the two schools. Millikan played well, our girls played well, it was just overall a great game. It went down to the last inning, what more could you ask for?”
The Lancers were able to tie the game in the bottom of the third on an RBI single from Julia Miramontes to score Kendall Lundberg, kicking off a back-and-forth battle that would last until the final frame.
Millikan took the lead back in the fourth thanks to Shorty Wright’s leadoff triple and an RBI knock from Emily Hanniff. But Lakewood came right back to tie it, 4-4, in the bottom half of the inning when Lundberg singled home Brooklyn Baruch.
Again the Rams took the lead in the top of the fifth as a leadoff double by Romero started a rally. Knarr followed that up by drilling a pitch into left center to plate pinch-runner Leyla Fernandez and make it 5-4 Millikan. The Rams nearly scored a second run with Knarr at third base and one out, but Lakewood right fielder Maddie Wynia turned a potential sacrifice fly into an inning-ending double play with a strong throw to the plate to prevent the run from scoring.
The Millikan advantage held until the bottom of the sixth when Lakewood took its first lead of the night. After a leadoff walk to Baruch, Lundberg laced a one-out triple into right center to tie the score. Lundberg would then score the go-ahead run on a perfectly executed squeeze bunt from Laci Berecochea to make it 6-5 Lancers.
Needing at least a run in the final inning, the Rams were able to score a pair with a crucial one-out rally. Fleming and Romero hit back-to-back singles to set the table for Knarr’s game-winning double into deep center.
Byrum then worked a 1-2-3 bottom of the seventh, striking out the final two batters to finish off the victory and begin the celebration on Lisa Fernandez Field.
With the playoff-like intensity during the game and the fervor of the celebration afterwards, it was obvious that the win was significant for the Rams, who were eager to make a statement with an outright league championship.
“It was very important, especially since we haven’t won Moore League in a while,” said Knarr. “But you know, if we’re gonna get first place, we’re not gonna share it. We’re gonna be the only ones up there.”
Both teams have a few games remaining on their schedules before CIF-SS brackets are released on Saturday, May 29. First round playoff games will take place on Thursday, June 3.