The562’s high school baseball and softball coverage for the 2022 season is sponsored by LBUSD Board of Education Member Megan Kerr.
With first place hanging in the balance on a cold Tuesday night at Lisa Fernandez Field, the word of the night was “defense.” Both Millikan and Lakewood made some stellar defensive plays, but it was the Rams who did a better job limiting their mistakes in a 4-2 win over their archrivals.
Fittingly, that’s what helped the Rams defend their Moore League title from last season, though they still have work to do to win the championship outright. But Tuesday’s victory was about more than just the title implications. It also meant scoring a crucial win against a bitter rival.
“I’m very proud of the girls,” said Millikan head coach Michelle Lehr following her first victory in the Millikan/Lakewood rivalry. “I have never ever coached in a game where there’s such an intense rivalry. This is insane. And the pride I think is really deep on both sides.”
Sophomore starting pitcher Ava Schaffel tossed a complete game for the Rams, though she didn’t have her typical strikeout stuff working. She did strike out seven batters while allowing two runs (one earned) on five hits and three walks. It was Schaffel’s first time pitching against Lakewood, and she came through with some clutch pitches throughout the night against a pesky Lancers lineup.
“The atmosphere was great,” said Schaffel of her first experience playing in this rivalry. “I feel like the first couple innings I was a little all over the place and I had to settle down. I knew I just had to keep hitting my spots, and my team had my back.”
The Rams made several solid defensive plays in support of Schaffel. Even the final out of the night–a deep fly ball off the bat of Cat Calzada, who represented the potential tying run–relied on the range of junior Erica Estrada in center field, who tracked the ball over her head and made the play to secure the win. Estrada said the team was fired up to get revenge on Lakewood after a sloppy performance in the first meeting.
“Yeah, that last first round was tough,” Estrada admitted. “So this second round going in, we were really pushing for that win. We needed that. So this one just felt extra special.”
Lakewood hit the scoreboard first in the top of the second inning, thanks to a one-out triple from Kaleyse Foster. She was brought home in the very next at-bat on a perfect squeeze bunt by Belle Casanova.
Millikan snagged the lead with three runs in the third inning, but got some help from a Lakewood miscue. Back-to-back singles by Hailey Ibarra and Robin Garcia put two runners on base with two outs for Estrada. She hit a dribbler out in front of the circle, but used her elite speed to put pressure on the Lancers defense. The throw to first base was wild, and instead of ending the inning allowed pinch runner Cristin Duncan and Garcia to come home and score.
Estrada would then steal second base, putting herself in scoring position for Katie Knarr’s RBI single, making it 3-1 Rams.
“We are a really fast team,” Estrada said. “I think executing our speed and using that to our advantage is key for us. It puts more pressure on (the other team) and makes them make mistakes. They hold the ball, they throw it away. It just puts a lot more pressure on them and it's good for us.”
Estrada also helped add an insurance run in the fifth inning. Her routine single to left turned into a double when she surprised the Lakewood defense by speeding into second base. With two outs in the inning, Shorty Wright sent a catchable fly ball in-between two Lancers outfielders. Neither player went for the ball, and it fell in front of them both for an RBI, bringing Estrada home for the second time.
Lakewood rallied for an unearned run in the top of the sixth thanks to a couple rare Millikan mistakes. Laci Berocochea’s one-out single started the rally and courtesy runner Isabella Rueda scored on an error to make it a 4-2 Millikan lead. The Lancers then had two runners in scoring position with just one out, but Schaffel beared down for the two biggest outs of the night. The sophomore got a huge strikeout and a harmless popout to preserve the two-run lead.
Lorena Ruiz singled to start the seventh inning for Lakewood, and Calzada’s ball to center field was probably the hardest hit ball of the night. Unfortunately for Lakewood, she couldn’t quite put it out of Estrada’s range in the spacious confines of Lisa Fernandez Field.
The Lancers will now become huge Poly fans–at least for a day–as the Jackrabbits have the power to force a three-way tie atop the league standings with a win over Millikan.
Due to a scheduling change from earlier in the season, Millikan will be back on the field in less than 24 hours against Poly at Joe Rodgers Stadium on Wednesday. A Millikan win would clinch an outright league championship for the second year in a row, but a loss would open the door for both the Lancers and Jackrabbits to claim a share of the title.
Schaffel is again expected to start for Millikan in that game, but injured starting pitcher Victoria Byrum is on the cusp of making her return to the circle and could factor into that game if needed.
“I told these girls we’re gonna be riding on adrenaline tomorrow,” said Lehr. “We are expecting Ava to go 14 innings in less than 24 hours, but the really good news is that Victoria, she'll step up if we need her. And I think she's ready.”