Long Beach Poly Millikan Softball

Softball: Millikan Survives With Late Rally Against Long Beach Poly

The562’s high school softball coverage is sponsored by Playmakers. Visit for more information on their adaptive sports programs.

The562’s coverage of Millikan athletics in the 2023-24 school year is sponsored by Curtis Boyer.

The562’s coverage of Long Beach Poly is sponsored by Bryson Financial.

Two weeks before the start of the CIF-SS softball playoffs, fans at Joe Rodgers Field got to witness a back-and-forth battle with all the drama and excitement befitting a championship game. 

Millikan and Long Beach Poly were locked in a 1-1 game for most of the afternoon, before the teams combined to score 10 runs in the final two innings. When the dust settled after a wild finish, it was the reigning Moore League champion Rams who emerged victorious, holding off an upset bid by the Jackrabbits with a 7-5 victory.

Sophomore Kayla Cisneros was the hero for Millikan in the top of the seventh inning, as her three-run double saved the Rams from defeat and gave them their first lead of the day. The Rams would tack on two more needed insurance runs as part of a six-run rally in the final inning, producing a thrilling comeback win.

“It was a nail biter, man. It’s one of those kinds of games where you feel like you need to go in the corner and puke, to be honest with you,” said Millikan head coach Michelle Lehr after the win. “I felt like our energy was not the greatest at the beginning of the game. And I feel like we spark, we ignite our offense. And I hope the girls are learning today that they have to start with that energy.”

Poly benefitted from having senior Tiare Ho-Ching back in the lineup, and she started the bottom of the first inning with a double into left center. Kiele Ho-Ching then followed that up with an RBI triple, getting the Jackrabbits off to a great start with a 1-0 lead.

However, that’s all Poly would get in the first five innings as Rams senior Ava Schaffel got a popout and two strikeouts to strand the younger Ho-Ching at third, and then put up four consecutive zeros against the Poly lineup.

Millikan tied the game in the top of the second inning as an RBI single from Addy Everett brought home courtesy runner Liana Lopez, who replaced Jocelyn Owen after her leadoff single.

Monthly Subscribers to The562

By The562 Network Inc

Poly starting pitcher Lana Chao battled the potent Millikan lineup all day, and pitched well to hold the Rams to just one run through six frames. She didn’t record a strikeout, but also allowed just one free pass as she trusted her defense behind her. The Rams were able to make plenty of hard contact, but Poly’s defenders were up to the challenge for most of the day.

With the top of the Jackrabbits’ order up in the sixth, Tiare Ho-Ching drew a leadoff walk, followed by another single from Kiele, who was 4/4 on the day. That set the table for Poly’s go-ahead rally, which came with two outs in the inning.

After Tiare beat out a fielder’s choice at third to load the bases, up came freshman Sunnie Vaafuti. She sent a ball down the right field line, just in front of the outstretched glove of Cisneros on the dive. It ended up as a ground-rule double, scoring both Ho-Chings to make it a 3-1 Poly lead.

Millikan refused to go quietly in their last chance to bat, and back-to-back singles by Riley McAndrew and Everett put runners at the corners with one out. A fielder’s choice allowed McAndrew to score and cut the deficit to 3-2, but the Rams still had plenty of work left to do. An error and a walk would load the bases with two outs, leaving it all up to Cisneros.

“I was definitely very nervous,” admitted Cisneros of her clutch at-bat. “I got up there and had to take a deep breath and really clear my mind … I knew she was going outside, outside, outside all day, so I was just looking for that outer half pitch and driving it.”

Cisneros smacked an 0-1 pitch into left center field, clearing the bases to give the Rams their first lead of the day. As she stood on second base, she let out a triumphant yell back to the visitor’s dugout, after delivering the biggest hit of the Moore League season thus far.

“When I was rounding first I actually screamed, ‘Yes!’ So I was super pumped,” she said. “It just felt amazing off the bat. I knew I put a good barrel on it, so I was hoping for the best when it dropped.”

Senior Katie Knarr followed up with an RBI single to right field, bringing home Cisneros for a 6-3 Millikan lead. Lela Asi would add another RBI for Millikan to give Schaffel a 7-3 cushion in the circle.

Poly was able to add two runs in the bottom half of the seventh as Emoni Lam Sam’s RBI single scored Tiare Ho-Ching, with Kiele following close behind after a throwing error. However, one final strikeout for Schaffel would end the game as she recorded 15 strikeouts on the day, with eight of them looking.

This was by far the closest league game Millikan has played this season, and it was markedly different from the 10-0 mercy rule win the Rams enjoyed in their first meeting with the Jackrabbits. But that was with Tiare Ho-Ching out injured, and Tuesday’s rematch showed what difference she made for the green & gold.

“Poly’s got a lot of heart. They say it all the time, and there’s no doubt about it,” Lehr said. “As much as I would love to have an easier game and run rule, this was a game. Really, this is what we want, it prepares us for the playoffs. We’re not just gonna run over teams all day, especially not a team like them, and I feel like what happened last time was uncharacteristic, us scoring 10 runs in five innings. I knew having Tiare back was going to lift their spirits, so I had a feeling we were going to be playing a different team today.”

Poly head coach Liz Sanches-Martin was disappointed to see her team come up short after being one out away from victory, but she knows her team played a great game to be in that position.

“I’m extremely proud. You know, it’s me and my 12 (players) against the world,” she said after the game. “We’re a completely different team than when we played them in the first round at their place. But when you play teams as good as Millikan, you can’t make mistakes. Whoever makes the most mistakes is the team who doesn’t bring home the win, and as hard as we fought, and as many times as we set the table, there were still a lot of missed opportunities.”

The Jackrabbits will be back in action on Wednesday against Compton, while Millikan will have another key game at Joe Rodgers as they take on Wilson on Thursday.

VIDEO: Millikan vs. Long Beach Poly, Softball
PHOTOS: Millikan vs. Long Beach Poly, Softball
Tyler Hendrickson
Tyler Hendrickson was born and raised in Long Beach, and started covering sports in his hometown in 2010. After five years as a sportswriter, Tyler joined the athletic department at Long Beach State University in 2015. He spent more than four years in the athletic communications department, working primarily with the Dirtbags baseball program. Tyler also co-authored of The History of Long Beach Poly: Scholars & Champions.