East County Sports

Highlanders get long-awaited win over Sultans



By Tyler Gribble

Special to EastCountySports.com

SANTEE – The Helix Highlanders’ spirits were flying high after their walk-off win on Monday over Mar Vista. They hoped to keep it going as they traveled to Santee for an imposing matchup against the Santana Sultans, and that’s exactly what they did as they struck in the first inning and did not look back. in a 6-1 non-league victory.

Leading off the first inning was Helix shortstop Avery Perez, who lined a single over the outstretched glove of her Santana counterpart. Erin Brown and Nicole Hernandez both drew walks to follow, loading the bases.

During the next at-bat, Perez reached home to score the first run of the game, thanks in part to a throwing error by the catcher.

Sophia Ramuno followed with an RBI single, driving in the second run of the inning and giving Helix their first multi-run inning on offense in two weeks.

In the third, the Highlanders capitalized on another mistake as Nicole Hernandez reached on an error, advanced to second thanks to a groundout, and advanced to third thanks to another Ramuno single.

Starting pitcher Zoe Kuhlken came to the plate and rolled a sharp ground ball to second, scoring Hernandez and extending the Helix lead to 3.

The Sultans’ scored their first and only run of the game in the bottom of the fourth inning.

Hailey Justice led off with a walk, and Lakaila Aquiningoc-David followed with a single lined into center.

A slow groundout advanced both runners, and starting pitcher Joey Barkhimer followed that with a walk to load the bases.

The next batter hit a pop up into foul territory beyond first base that was called an infield fly, and Justice managed to score thanks to the Highlanders’ lone defensive miscue on the day.

The Scotties struck back in the top of the fifth, with Hernandez leading off with a single and Amber Young following with a walk.

Ramuno hit a sharp grounder into right field for her third single of the day, loading the bases.

A popup to deep second base was called an infield fly, and the ball dropped into the outfield grass, allowing Jolene Giles (pinch running for Hernandez) to score.

Kasey Castro followed with a ground ball to second, bringing Young home and bringing the score to 6-1.

Helix starting pitcher Kuhlken was on as she cruised to a complete game victory, allowing just two hits and retiring the last 11 batters in order (including the final out of the game, a chopped ball to third base that saw Hernandez lunging to her left, dropping to the ground, spinning all the way around and making the throw from her knees, beating the runner by half a step).

“It felt amazing,” Kuhlken said. “Helix hasn’t beat Santana in eleven years and getting that win felt reassuring. We knew that the defense needed to be clean, and I made sure I hit my spots and didn’t give up big hits. The more I pitched against the hitters, the more fired up I felt to get the win.

Highlander first baseman Ramuno went 3-for-3 with a walk, Perez had two hits, a single and a double, and catcher Isabella Bordine was hit by a pitch twice, bringing her season total to 11 HBP.

For the Sultans, Aquiningoc-David tallied both of her team’s hits on the day.

The Highlanders challenging week continues as they play host to the Mount Carmel Sundevils, in a game to be played under the lights this Friday evening.

Still ahead for the Highlanders after that is the second half of the league schedule and a season-ending showdown with El Capitan, which defeated the Scotties in their first meeting and lead Helix by one game in the standings.

“As a team, we are very pumped up for that game and learned from the first game against them that our bats need to come early,” Kuhlken said. “We want that co-league title and to advance in CIF so we know that beating El Capitan is how we will get there.

“Sometimes we let the fact that El Capitan is our rival team get in the way of our win, but that won’t be the case when we face them again.”

Meanwhile, the Sultans will be hoping to bounce back in the desert on Friday, as they travel to Brawley to take on the Wildcats.

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