Lakewood and Millikan added another exciting chapter to their storied softball rivalry on Thursday night at Lisa Fernandez Field.
The Lancers were one out away from a victory when an error allowed the Rams to take the one-run lead in the seventh inning. Lakewood responded by putting two runners in scoring position with one out in the bottom of the seventh.
Lakewood catcher Catherine Calzada came up and laid down a perfect squeeze bunt right in front of the pitcher’s circle. Millikan’s Victoria Byrum charged the ball but her throw home got away as Bri Weeks scored the tying run. Julia Miramontes, who was on second base, didn’t stop running while watching the play develop in front of her.
“I was sending her home no matter what,” Lakewood coach and third base coach Andy Miramontes said. “I was going to ride or die. The good news was even if she got thrown out we still had a runner at second with a good hitter up. I was straight sending her.”
Julia knew exactly what her dad was thinking.
“I wasn’t stopping,” Miramontes said. “I said ‘I’m going to win for my team and I’m going to go.’”
That’s exactly what happened as Miramontes came around to score for the walk-off win 5-4.
“It felt really crazy,” Miramontes added about playing in front of a huge crowd during a back-and-forth game. “The competition is there on and off the field. Off the field we’re great friends, and out here we really bring it and play our best.”
The Lakewood wins means there’s a three-way tie for first place in the Moore League with Lakewood, Millikan and Long Beach Poly on top with one league loss.
“It doesn’t matter how good we are or how bad we are, we always have a good game,” coach Miramontes said of the rivalry. “That brings the best out of them. The ties go deep. These girls have been playing together since they were 5-6 years old. That adds to the competitiveness.”
“This is the first time I’ve been involved in a rivalry this deep,” Millikan first-year coach Michelle Lehr said. “I came from Kennedy where our rivals were Cypress. The tension, energy and fans wasn’t anything like this. It’s intense. In games like this it doesn’t matter who is on top at any given moment because it could flip really quick, as it did, twice.”
Lakewood took a 3-0 lead in the third inning, but Millikan chipped away with one run in the fourth and the sixth. The Rams scored twice in the seventh inning thanks to a Lancers error, and then Lakewood won the game on a Millikan error.
“On both sides it was a little bit of a messy game,” Lehr said. “A lot of errors and free bases, and at the end of the day they always come back to kill you.”
The top of the Lakewood lineup was active as Weeks scored twice from the leadoff spot, and Miramontes did the same in the two hole after reaching base three times.
Lakewood pitcher Laci Berecochea was the only Lancer with an RBI during her complete game performance during which she scattered five hits and stranded 11 runners.
Millikan first baseman Katie Knarr led the Rams offense with a single, a walk and two runs scored. Byrum struck out seven in a complete game, but was injured on the last play of the game and needed help off the field.
Only two of the nine runs scored were earned.
"The first thing I said to my team before we stepped on the field was ‘Let’s focus on the simple things, the little duties, get runners on, over and in,’” Julia Miramontes said. “I think the key to victory was doing the little things and having each other's backs.”
Lakewood took its lead in the third inning with small ball as Weeks led off with a walk and Miramontes singled. They were sacrificed over, and then Berecochea drove Weeks in with a bunt single. Two more runs would score on a wild pitch and a passed ball.
“That’s our whole philosophy and I’m going to do whatever it takes to win,” coach Miramontes said of the small ball approach. “Squeezing, bunting, putting the ball in play… We don’t have the power to be always hitting home runs so it’s whatever it takes to win.”
Millikan got on the board in the fourth inning when left fielder Mikaela Pacheco drove in pinch-runner China Duncan, but a second run was cut down on a play at the plate. The Rams scored again in the sixth on an error to cut the lead to 3-2.
In the top of the seventh, Millikan loaded the bases with two outs thanks to a controversial call at first base. It looked like a fly ball to right field would end the game, but the ball was dropped and two runs scored to give the Rams a 4-3 lead.
Weeks and Miramontes got on base with one out in the bottom of the seventh, and would score the game-tying and winning runs.
Julia Miramontes said her team is excited to get back on top of the league.
“Just because you’re a big name and you beat us last year, we’re going to come back and beat you this year,” she said.
Millikan and Lakewood have now played the other two top teams in Poly and Wilson, so all of the teams know themselves a lot better now just weeks before the second round of league play starts.
“We need to keep the ball out of the air,” Lehr said. “It seems to be our trend early on that with runners in scoring position we’re putting the ball in the air and not moving runners. That’s hurting us. Next time around we have to do a better job early in the game to get a lead early.”
The next big league game for both teams are the start of the second round March 31 as Lakewood hosts Wilson and Millikan travels to Poly.