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.
Playoff softball is often decided in the circle, and Thursday’s playoff opener for the Millikan Rams was no exception.
Senior Victoria Byrum did her job for the Rams, allowing only one hit while striking out 12 batters against Glendora, but the Moore League champions were unable to figure out opposing starter Bridget Nemeth as the visiting Tartans pulled out a 1-0 win in Long Beach.
Millikan head coach Michelle Lehr knew her lineup was in for a test against Nemeth, who is headed to play at Penn State next season, but the Rams were unable to capitalize on their 4-1 advantage in hits. Only once did Millikan put a runner in scoring position, and never got a baserunner to third.
“It really just comes down to which team makes more mistakes, and today we made more mistakes,” said Lehr after the game. “We didn’t execute when we needed to, and in a small game like softball, execution is so important … (Glendora) knew they were going to have a hard time hitting in runs, so they found a way. And I felt like we would hit runs in, but we never got a baserunner to third base today.”
Glendora was able to find a way to score in the top of the sixth after a leadoff walk started a rally. Pinch runner Liliana Hawker promptly stole second, then moved to third base on a sac bunt. During the next at-bat, the Glendora hitter showed bunt, then pulled the bat back. At that point, Hawker had moved halfway down the third base line, baiting a throw down. After a bluff back toward third base to induce a throw, she bolted toward home plate on a delayed steal, sliding in safely before the ball could be thrown back. That gave the visitors all the offense they needed.
That was the only blemish for Byrum in an otherwise stellar outing. She allowed just one hit (a leadoff double in the fourth) but made a number of key pitches to strand runners on whenever she was in trouble. The Eastern Kentucky signee had at least one strikeout in every inning, fanning the side in the second and also striking out multiple batters in the fourth, fifth and sixth.
Byrum closed out her senior season strong, building off her gem against rivals Lakewood to wrap up a third straight league title for the Rams just last week.
“I'm very happy for her, but I think she and I both know that we wanted to go the distance,” said Lehr of Byrum. “We didn't want to be one and done. But offensively is where we lost today. It wasn't her.”
Millikan’s best opportunity to score came in the fourth inning, when Katie Knarr and Ariana Ramirez hit back-to-back singles to start the frame. However, two straight pop-ups and a strikeout got Nemeth out of trouble, and the Rams wouldn’t reach scoring position again. Nemeth retired the final seven batters she faced and retired 12 of 13 after those two singles to start the fourth.
Millikan finishes the season 21-8, with consecutive 20-win seasons since Lehr’s arrival. Glendora advances to play the winner of Valencia and Tesoro in Tuesday’s second round of the CIF-SS Division 2 playoffs.