The562’s high school baseball and softball coverage for the 2022 season is sponsored by LBUSD Board of Education Member Megan Kerr.
The562’s coverage of Long Beach Wilson Athletics is sponsored by Joel Bitonio, Class of 2009.
It’s always nice to have options. If one thing isn’t working, being able to count on a reliable alternative is quite the luxury.
The Millikan softball team has options in the circle, and so does sophomore Ava Schaffel. With junior starting pitcher Victoria Byrum banged up and unable to pitch, Schaffel made sure the Rams didn’t miss a beat on Tuesday afternoon. Showcasing her potent repertoire of pitches, Schaffel tossed a no-hitter against the Wilson Bruins (12-13, 4-5) while racking up 14 strikeouts, leading Millikan (14-8, 7-1) to a 2-0 victory at Joe Rodgers Stadium.
For Millikan head coach Michelle Lehr to have a “second” pitcher like Schaffel, capable of such a dominant performance, only speaks to the talent that this year’s roster has for the Rams.
“It’s rare,” said Lehr after the win. “And I honestly feel like we shouldn’t really be having these close games with the amount of power that we have in the circle. We just can’t align the hits, so we’re putting a lot of pressure on our pitchers to keep a shutout and that’s and you can’t expect that every game, but it’s a great feeling. This is exactly why (assistant coach) Mike (Mathis) and I came here. When you have the depth and pitching like Millikan does, you don’t want to go anywhere else.”
Schaffel recorded at least one strikeout in every inning, collecting multiple K’s in five of the seven frames while striking out the side in the third and the sixth. In her previous matchup against Wilson, she fanned 11 batters, but used a different approach this time around. While she didn’t have a feel for her rise ball, she used different pitches in her arsenal to attack the Bruins hitters.
“It's good because I have like six pitches,” explained Schaffel. “So if one's not working, like my rise today, then I could just go to my curve or my screw, and it's all good.”
She said she never felt pressure in the circle even as the game made it into the seventh inning with no score. She just kept plugging away, keeping the Wilson lineup off balance and racking up strikeout after strikeout.
“I've never had 14 before, but I mean, I felt good,” said Schaffel. “I knew my defense had my back, and I knew we were going to start hitting towards the end. I'm just glad we could score runs and get on the board.”
The Rams were finally able to break through with a two-run rally in the seventh inning. Cami Lara’s single off the outstretched glove of Wilson center fielder Madison Mitchell put Rams at the corners with one out. Back-to-back walks by Robin Garcia and Emily Hanniff would then force in the game’s first run, making it 1-0 Millikan. An RBI groundout by Erica Estrada doubled the lead, giving Schaffel more than enough run support for the final three outs.
On the other side, Wilson starting pitcher Emily Castano did a nice job attacking the strike zone and limiting free opportunities early in the game. She also relied on an active Bruins defense that made some nice plays behind her, including Mitchell in center and Adriana Wiggins in left.
While it was a tough day at the plate for the Bruins, head coach George Molina is pleased with the way Costano competed and his defense backed up their sophomore starter.
“Obviously, Ava pitched a really, really good game, but my pitcher pitched a very good game too,” said Molina. “Ava got pretty strong at the end, especially that last inning, she looked stronger. But I can't say enough about Emily. I'm just really proud of her and all the kids. We were out there catching fly balls and just making plays, so I'm proud of the defense today.”
It was another close loss against one of the league leaders for Wilson, who will still get another shot at Poly before the season is up.
Meanwhile for Millikan, it all comes down to two days next week when the Rams will be playing with the chance to clinch a back-to-back league title. Millikan faces Lakewood next Tuesday night at Lisa Fernandez Field before returning to Joe Rodgers on Wednesday afternoon for their second meeting against Poly.
Lehr confirmed that Schaffel will be back in the circle for both showdowns next week, and the Rams hope to have Byrum available to provide relief if needed. After all, it’s always nice to have options.