The562’s high school baseball and softball coverage for the 2022 season is sponsored by LBUSD Board of Education Member Megan Kerr
The 2022 Millikan softball season has been chock full of late-inning drama.
This year has included multiple comebacks and walk-off wins for the Rams, with one in the playoffs, and they almost pulled off another upset in the CIF Southern Section Division 2 championship game on Friday night at Deanna Manning Stadium in Irvine.
However, the two runs that Mission Viejo scored in the first inning stood up as Millikan fell just short in a 2-1 loss. It was the first CIF championship appearance for the Rams since 2005.
“I’m so proud of them,” Millikan coach Michelle Lehr said. “No one expected us to be here. We weren’t even ranked to start (the playoffs) and I think we had the most losses of any Division 2 playoff team.”
Millikan beat three higher ranked teams in the playoffs to reach the final game.
“We’re just so proud of how far we’ve come that no matter what happened in this game we’re going to be happy, it just didn’t fall our way this time,” Millikan center fielder Erica Estrada said.
“I’m super proud of this team,” Millikan senior catcher Cami Lara added. “Obviously we haven’t been here in a long time. For us to be here is so special and I’m so glad I got to be a part of it.”
Mission Viejo took an early lead in the bottom of the first inning when Ava Tabancura drew a one-out walk, stole second base and then scored on a fly ball RBI off the bat of Diablos star pitcher Sofia Elliott. She took third on the play, and her pinch runner scored on Shay Glass’ RBI double.
“I wasn’t too concerned because it was so early and we’ve done this before,” Lehr said, referring to the pair of Rams’ comeback playoff wins this month.
Millikan starting pitcher Ava Schaffel settled down nicely after the first inning and scattered three hits in a complete game performance. The sophomore ended the night with 10 strikeouts and one walk.
“In the first inning I felt good, but not my best, so I knew I could do better,” Schaffel said. “I just had to spin it and let my defense work behind me.”
“I think she missed one pitch (in the first inning) and she continued to get better,” Lehr said of Schaffel. “We started working out of the zone to our benefit. We got them to chase a lot more. She pitched a great game.”
Elliott was just as dominant in the circle for Mission Viejo. The Rams had a pair of baserunners early thanks to errors, but Elliott didn’t give up a hit until Robin Garcia led off the sixth inning with a single through the left side.
“I knew it was only a matter of time,” Lehr said of the Millikan offense. “Usually the third time (through the lineup) we start to figure things out.”
After a fielder’s choice moved Garcia into scoring position, Estrada drove her home with an RBI single to left field. It’s the first and only postseason run given up by Elliott and the Diablos.
“This team is just so amazing,” Estrada said. “We keep each other on our toes. We’re always fighting until the end. No one gives up until seven innings is over.”
A great play by Mission Viejo shortstop Sammi Woods ended the threat in the sixth, but Millikan came right back and Lara reached on a one-out error in the seventh.
After Elliott got a strikeout, she walked Hailey Ibbara to put the go-ahead run on base. However, Elliott got a generous called strike three on a 3-2 pitch to Garcia that ended the game and set off the Mission Viejo celebration.
Millikan was very classy in defeat, and spent awhile on the field after the final out to soak up their last moments together. They were also talking a lot about the fact that most of this team returns next season. Lara was the only senior starter.
“For the young group we have, being here is such a good experience for next year,” Lehr said. “I think we’ll be able to handle certain moments a little bit better. I expect us to be here for the next two years.”