Stell Grand Slam Completes Huskies' Comeback, Saves Playoff Hopes
by Cerwin D Haynes
"Big players make big plays when their teams need it the most."
Sure, it's a variation of one of the best-known sports cliches ever said. But when you witness it happen up close and personal, one can easily identify the seed which birthed said cliche.
Consider the following: in the bottom of the sixth inning with East LA College softball trailing the Seahawks of LA Harbor College 5-2, relief pitcher Chasity Martinez induced Rosalie Alvarado to hit a high pop up in foul territory outside the third base line. Desperately needing that first out, both 3B Lily Stell and C Jade Hidalgo raced to catch the ball and collided with each other just as Stell made the catch. It would be a painful out for the Huskies, as it appeared Hidalgo (in full catcher gear, obviously) inadvertantly kneed Stell in the midsection. The third baseman had to be helped off the field and was thought to be out of the game as head coach Erika Blanco shuffled her defense to adjust.
Fortunately for the Huskies, there were able to escape the inning without giving up a run. The Green now had one last chance to figure a way to come from behind and avoid losing to a Harbor team that's only won one conference game all season - the kind of loss that would assuredly end any chance for the Huskies to make the postseason.
One reason ELAC trailed Harbor in this game was because the Seahawks were making uncharacteristically good defensive plays all game. Harbor took away potential Huskies' hits with steady - sometimes spectacular - glove work. Fortunately for the Pack, such sterling defense dissipated in the top of the 7th: Leadoff hitter Dani Varela reached safely on a fielding error by SS Dajhay Norton, who normally the team's 3B but had been called on to play short within the past month. The Seahawks had looked to steady themselves - retiring the next two Huskies' batters on a flyout and groundout to bring themselves within an out of a huge upset win. But the fielding yips would come right back: Irene Huizar hit a grounder to SS Norton who couldn't get her glove under the ball, knocking it toward 2B Marissa Salas who was slow to react. The ball trickled away from Salas, and by time she retrieved it, Varela (who was at 2nd base when the ball was put in play) scored.
ELAC now trailed 7-5 with a runner on first, and although Harbor was still only one out away from the win, the Huskies had begun to wrest the momentum away. Back to back singles by Nathalie Cordova and Irene Dorado loaded the bases, and the cleanup spot was up to bat... a spot in the batting order usually reserved for a team's most powerful hitter. With a .667 slugging percentage and a team-leading four homeruns on the season, Stell is said most powerful hitter, a big impact player for the road Huskies. But what would the team do with their leading slugger on the bench hurting?
Stell refused to let her team deal with such a quandry - she told Coach Blanco to "put me back in". She stepped into the batter's box with everything on the line for her team, facing Seahawks' starting pitcher Natalie Quezada, who was going for the complete game victory in Harbor's final game of the season. Quezada dealt her pitch, and Stell swung.
Big players make big plays when their teams need it the most: Stell cracked a fastball down the middle and sent the ball soaring high and deep into left center, just clearing the yellow homerun line at the top of the outfield wall. A dramatic, perfectly-timed, last gasp grand slam, and the Huskies came all the back, now taking a 7-5 lead.
"I just wanted to hit the ball," said Stell after the game. "I came in, I was ready, I knew I was ready".
Coach Blanco sent in her regular starter, Serena Lopez, to close the game out in the bottom of the seventh. Pumped up, Lopez struck out Norton, got Angelina Barrios to pop up to 2nd, and then completed the comback by getting Asia Bryant to pop up to short.
"We knew we had to give it another push", said Coach Blanco when asked about the seventh inning.
ELAC (9-11, 17-21) now has one more push to make - tomorrow at Long Beach City College.
- After today's win, ELAC is currently ranked #17 in the SoCal RPI rankings. Typically, the top 18 teams all earn playoff bids with conference winners earning automatic entry, but some conferences award automatic bids to 2nd place finishers as well. Or, a conference may have co-champions: as of this writing, Chaffey and Barstow both lead the Inland Empire Athletic Conference with 12-3 records, and are ranked #22 and #28 in RPI, respectively. This means the Huskies, despite their current ranking, are in danger of being bumped out of the postseason.
- Moorpark, ranked #20, has won the Western State North Conference. Their automatic bid could also knock the Huskies out of the postseason.
- Long Beach CC is ranked #4 in SoCal RPI. The Pack beat the Vikings in Long Beach back on February 8. If they can do it again, it could bump ELAC up far enough in the RPI rankings to secure a postseason bid - likely the play-in round.
- Chasity Martinez got the win in relief (3-2). Lopez earned her third save of the season.
- Cordova, Dorado, and Stell each had two hits. Cordova and Dorado each scored twice. Stell finished with 5RBI.
East LA travels to Long Beach for their regular season finale to take on the Vikings tomorrow at 3pm.