It’s been years since expectations were this high for Long Beach Poly softball. Now all of a sudden an elite pitcher and aggressive approach has the Jackrabbits in the thick of the Moore League race. It wasn’t that long ago when Lakewood was leading that race concisely, but the Jackrabbits 3-0 win at Lakewood on Tuesday is just another example of the changing tides in local softball.
Poly is now alone in second place in the Moore League. The Jackrabbits beat Lakewood last season for the first time in more than 15 years.
“We were always the underdogs in this league and we’re ready to take that place on top,” Poly pitcher Bella Alonso said. “So we have to stay competitive and show that in every game. We have to stay on top of every single game.”
Alonso pitched a complete-game shutout while striking out eight batters and scattering six hits and two walks. The senior stranded six runners in the later innings.
“I knew that this was a new team with new batters,” Alonso said. “So I kept the same approach of getting them out over the outside pitch and then squeezing them inside.”
She left two runners in scoring position with one out but got back-to-back strikeouts in the second inning.
“She has a presence,” Poly coach Elizabeth Sanches said. “She’s been a leader since she was a freshman. We had to pull the harness back a little bit. Leadership isn’t just based on ability. It takes much more than that, and she’s evolved every year. She’s become a lot more approachable. The younger kids don’t feel the intimidation or threat. She’s developed in the way she speaks to her teammates.”
Poly took a 2-0 lead in the second inning when Sakarah Buckner drove in Kristianah Villegas with a 2-run home run to the right center field gap with two outs. Buckner came into the Poly program, but injuries forced her to sacrifice for the team and take over the leadoff spot in the outfield. She reached base in all four of her trips to the place with three hits and a walk.
“She fits anywhere and is a hell of a player,” Sanches said of Buckner.
Lakewood pitcher Laci Berecochea settled in after that and only gave up four hits in the last five innings. However, Poly padded its lead in the seventh inning when sophomore Briana Bailey came around to score on a bases loaded error off the bat of Alonso.
In the bottom of the seventh, Alonso went right after the Lancers and stranded a runner on third base with a pair of ground outs.
“We’re definitely being aggressive every step of the way,” Alonso said. “We have to step on this field ready to play.”
Buckner and Poly senior Vanessa Correa were the only Jackrabbits to reach base at least three times. Correa had two singles and a walk.
“I don’t think we think we’re the underdogs as much anymore,” Correa said. “We just come in knowing we’ve got to play our game and we’re on par with them. We know we can do our thing.”
Lakewood shortstop Bri Weeks had three singles in the leadoff spot. She was stranded on third base three times. Madeleine Mendoza and Kaleyse Foster both had doubles for the Lancers, who are now in third place in the league standings.
Despite the impressive bounce back from their loss at Millikan in the league opener, Sanches told her team to not get complacent.
“We’re never satisfied,” Sanches said. “Not only on the field but in the classroom and in life. If you’re satisfied you’re not getting better. We can always improve on what we’re working hard on. We can’t sit on two or three runs on teams like Lakewood, Millikan and Wilson. Especially with how tight this race is already.”
Poly hosts Cabrillo on Thursday while Lakewood takes on first-palace Millikan.