The562’s high school softball coverage for the 2023 season is sponsored by Long Beach City Councilwoman Megan Kerr.
The562’s coverage of Millikan athletics in the 2022-23 school year is sponsored by Curtis Boyer.
The562’s coverage of Long Beach Poly athletics in the 2022-23 school year is sponsored by Poly alum Jayon Brown and PlayFair Sports Management.
The562’s coverage of Long Beach Poly athletics in the 2022-23 school year is sponsored by JuJu Smith-Schuster and the JuJu Foundation.
Long Beach Poly Softball picked up a monumental win on Wednesday–one that not only puts the Moore League title up for grabs, but one that serves as a defining moment for a rapidly emerging program.
The Jackrabbits played a nail-biter against Millikan at Joe Rodgers Field, scoring the winning run in the bottom of the sixth inning to hand the defending Moore League champs their first loss of the league season, 2-1.
A young Poly team showed flashes in their first meeting with the Rams in mid-March, but ultimately suffered an 11-4 loss. In the rematch, the Jackrabbits were more confident and more comfortable playing against one of the top teams in the area, resulting in their first win over Millikan since 2016.
“I’m so proud of them,” said Poly head coach Elizabeth Sanches-Martin of her team and how they approached Wednesday’s rematch. “In the first game, I saw fear. In this game, I didn’t see that. I saw some nerves, because it was an intense game and it was a tight game for seven innings straight, but I didn’t see the fear. I saw the energy, I saw the emotion, and that’s all I’ve been asking of them since I got here.”
Senior pitcher Nyla Springer had a strong performance in the circle, tossing a complete game allowing one run on five hits with no walks and six strikeouts.
“Nyla was laser focused, and that’s another thing about Nyla, I’ve never seen fear in her eyes,” said Sanches-Martin. “She’s just a workhorse and it paid off for her today. She was able to stop their lineup and they have an extremely powerful lineup, so I couldn’t be more proud of her.”
Springer also got plenty of help from her defense, especially freshman second baseman Kiele Ho-Ching, who had four putouts and three assists from her spot at the keystone. The Jackrabbits also turned a double play and freshman catcher Janelle Morris threw out a Millikan base runner trying to steal second.
“I think we just really knew that we could do it,” Springer said of pulling the upset. “We all worked together as a team, and the defense behind me was amazing. We all just had each other's back … The fact that we got this win today, I think that’s gonna give us confidence to know that we trust each other, we do what we do, and if we're all working together we can beat anyone.”
Poly took the lead in the bottom of the third inning as junior Tiare Ho-Ching ripped a leadoff single to start a rally. After stealing second base, she was brought home on an RBI single from Emoni Lam Sam, making it 1-0 Jackrabbits.
Millikan answered back in the fifth frame as Shorty Wright drilled a triple into the gap in left center. That was the only extra-base hit of the day and put her in prime scoring position with just one out. Robin Garcia followed that up with a clean single to center to tie the game up at one apiece.
Poly nearly took the lead back with a two-out rally in the bottom half of the inning. A single by Kiele Ho-Ching followed by consecutive hit batters loaded the bases, but Millikan pitcher Victoria Byrum (6 IP, 7 H, 2 R (1 ER), BB, 6 K) induced a flyout to end the inning and strand the bases loaded.
The Jackrabbits did find their winning run in the sixth, however, as the game’s only walk (drawn by Ariana Molina) led to the eventual winning run. After that free pass, a single, and a fielder’s choice, runners were on first and second with two outs for Tiare Ho-Ching at the top of the order. As she did throughout the game, she made hard contact on a grounder to third. It bounced off the defender’s glove and into the outfield grass, allowing pinch-runner Nina Fife to sprint home with the winning run.
“I just knew that if she hits the ball, I'm going, and I'm gonna go all the way because that's what we’ve got to do for each other,” said Fife. “I knew that I had to do it for my whole team. because we've never been Millikan as long as I've been here, so this was a huge thing for us.”
On the flip side, it was a frustrating loss for Millikan and head coach Michelle Lehr, who was unhappy with a noticeably wide strike zone in Wednesday’s game. She believes that was a major factor in Millikan’s lowest offensive output of the Moore League season.
“We have the best hitting team in the league, there's no doubt. So the game was altered, and we didn't adjust to his strike zone,” said Lehr after the game. “We wanted to go undefeated, but we know that we just need to beat Wilson twice and Lakewood one more time and we're still the champs.”
The Rams will be back at Joe Rodgers on Thursday to take on Wilson for the first time this season. Meanwhile, Poly is hosting Jordan Thursday in their last game before Spring Break.