The defending Moore League champion Millikan softball team won a close contest against challenger Long Beach Poly on Tuesday on the first day of competitive action in the league. The Rams got great pitching and defense, and timely hitting to overcome the upstart Jackrabbits, 3-1.
“Our pitching obviously is lights out, our defense is solid, we’re just trying to get our offense to mesh,” said Millikan assistant coach Mike Mathis after the game. “This is our first year here, we’re still figuring out their strengths in the offense, trying to find our chemistry. The Poly pitcher is great, so putting up three runs against her is good.”
Rams ace Victoria Byrum didn’t have her best game, which is saying something because the junior was still outstanding. She gave up three hits and just one run in six innings of work, striking out ten. Byrum also walked six batters and struggled with her control late in the game.
“Nobody’s perfect and she struggled a little, but she’s a good enough pitcher to where we can allow her some line, and she worked herself out of it,” said Mathis.
Byrum’s rise ball was fooling Poly for the first two innings as she racked up four strikeouts going high, and the Jackrabbits had trouble catching up with her velocity.
“My team definitely backed me up today,” said Byrum, who said she’s taking a positive approach mentally this year even when things aren’t going perfectly. “Lately I’ve been trying to focus on my mental game. Thinking positively, not getting down if someone’s on base and just focusing on that next batter.”
It was a pitchers’ duel early, but the Rams took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third on a sacrifice fly by Ari Ramirez to score Emily Hanniff, who had reached with a single. Byrum held Poly to just one hit through four innings, but the Jackrabbits did load the bases in the fourth after drawing three walks–but a strikeout from Byrum ended the threat.
The Rams got a little breathing room in the fifth after a leadoff triple from Madi Wright jumpstarted the inning. Wright was scored on an RBI single from Hanniff, who scored after a pop up by Katie Knarr dropped in front of home plate.
Hanniff was the hero for Millikan on offense with a pair of runs and the RBI. Hanniff said the Rams’ confidence is high coming off of last year’s league title.
“I think for me because I’ve been in this environment a lot, I really have confidence in myself and what I can do,” she said. “I have confidence in this whole team–we know we can play, we know we can hit.”
Poly would get on the board in the sixth inning after a leadoff triple from starting pitcher Bella Alonso, who got her dugout fired up after the big hit into right field. After a pair of walks loaded the bases with just one out, Angela Reyes sacrificed Alonso home to put Poly on the board. Byrum got a strikeout after that to end the inning and the threat.
After a leadoff walk in the top of the seventh, the Millikan coaches made a switch from Byrum to sophomore Ava Schaffel, the other half of the Rams’ formidable 1-2 punch. Schaffel slammed the door on the Poly upset bid with three straight strikeouts to finish the game.
Hanniff said a lot of the Rams’ swag comes from knowing how good their pitchers are.
“With Victoria and Ava we feel like we’re unstoppable,” she said.
The Jackrabbits had plenty to feel good about as well, going toe-to-toe with the league favorites despite being down three starters due to injury.
“I’m proud of them,” said Poly coach Elizabeth Sanches. “They’re not letting those missing links prevent them from coming out here and playing with all the heart that Long Beach Poly is known to have.”
The CSUN-signed senior Alonso was impressive for Poly, battling out of a few tough spots to keep the Jackrabbits in the game despite Millikan notching seven hits. Her triple in the sixth gave a big lift to Poly as well, as she battled in the circle and also represented Poly’s only run.
“If anyone can handle expectation and pressure, it’s Bella Alonso,” said Sanches. “She just has a different presence–she can handle pressure, and I think she thrives off of it, actually.”
Millikan will host Wilson next week on Monday while Poly will visit Lakewood Tuesday in another pair of big league games.