Santa Ana was shut out after seven innings against division rival Fullerton College on Saturday, March 25. The final score was 5-0.
While the Dons offense left a lot to be desired, their defense shined once again. Their fielding percentage sits at .963, the best in conference.
“We’re really heavy on defense, making plays behind our pitcher,” said outfielder Sierra Griego. “[We’re] trying to help her out as much as possible so that we can do our job on offense and work to get some runs. Defense helps a lot.”
Starting pitcher Katie Neal dealt through the first two innings of the game, keeping the Hornets hitless. Neal appeared calm, cool, and collected on the mound.
“I call it my ‘poker face,” said Neal. “I don’t show any emotion out there. Inside, it’s all kept in,”
Fullerton added traffic to the basepaths in the third. After a lead off fly out, the next batter reached on a short infield single. The following batter bunted safely toward third base.
Freshman shortstop Alyssa Armijo knocked down a sharply hit ball to get the lead runner at third out. Fullerton then challenged the Don infield again with another bunt.
While the batter was safe at first, the lead runner attempted to take advantage of the play and broke for home. Second baseman Mel Avila responded quickly and fired to the catcher, beating the runner at the plate to keep the game scoreless.
The Dons responded aggressively in the bottom of the third. A leadoff single from Amanda Carrasco was followed by outfielder Sierra Griego, who sent a line drive over the head of the center fielder for a double. Carrasco attempted to score from first but was thrown out at the plate after a strong relay throw.
The Don’s box score may have been quiet, but their bats were active. They had runners in scoring position four separate times throughout the game but failed to score. There were a total of six SAC base runners left on base.
“We just weren’t timely with our hitting,” said manager Marissa Ross. “If we were timely I think the game would have been a little different. We would have put up some runs earlier. That’s what it came down to.”
Neal faced trouble in the fourth. After a double down the left field line placed a runner on second, Neal allowed a single into left field.
The runner from second raced around to score and was ruled safe due to catcher’s interference after the Dons catcher moved into the base path to catch the relay throw. The umpire’s call drew outrage from the home Dons crowd, who loudly voiced their displeasure to the home plate official.
Right fielder Jayleena Perez ran down a line drive in the fourth to save extra bases and end the inning.
Fullerton added on in the top of the fifth. Yet another bunt advanced the runner to first. This was another controversial play to the home crowd, who protested that the batter had left the batter’s box before making contact.
The next batter drove a ball into the right-center gap, advancing to second and scoring the runner from first to increase the lead to 2-0.
Katie Neal kept her competitive spirit as she pitched deeper into the game. She returned for the sixth inning and blanked Fullerton in a 1-2-3 inning.
“Deeper into the game it becomes more of a mental game than a physical game,” said Neal. “It’s [about] just staying within yourself and not letting everything else surround you, and control the controllable.”
Fullerton rallied once more in the seventh while Neal came out to finish a complete game. Two more runs scored during the inning to extend the Fullerton lead to a five.
However, the right-hander’s longevity was a welcome sight to Ross.
“That was nice. That was nice to see from her, especially since she threw yesterday. That’s the fortunate part with softball pitchers, they can throw back-to-back days. It was good to see her go seven. Good to know too since we have a lot of make-up games coming up,” said Ross.
Offensively, the Dons would go out quietly in their last chance to score.
Sitting at 9-12 overall and 5-4 in conference, SAC looks to reach .500 for the second time this season. Admittedly, the conference games are an uphill battle.
“Our conference is so tough. If you look at the scores, everybody’s beating up on each other. Any given day anybody can win,” said Ross.
Santa Ana looks ahead to Tuesday, March 28 against Santiago Canyon College. The game will be at home at 3:00 p.m.