East County Sports

Highlanders are perfect league champions

Helix seniors (L to R) Jiovana Nuanez, Jolene Giles, Audrey Kull, Victoria Vidrio, Maggie Jenkins, Nicole Hernandez, and Isabella Bordine.
2021 EAST COUNTY PREP SOFTBALL\
HELIX 11, GRANITE HILLS 8
By Tyler Gribble
Special to East County Sports

LA MESA – Thanks to their league championship-securing win on Friday, the Highlanders avoided the pressure of a must-win scenario on Wednesday afternoon, their final game of the regular season. This luxury allowed the team to more easily appreciate the tradition and ceremony of Senior Night, and the bittersweet feelings that accompany it. This Highlander squad sports seven seniors: Audrey Kull, Isabella Bordine, Jiovana Nuanez, Jolene Giles, Maggie Jenkins, Nicole Hernandez, and Victoria Vidrio.

Nuanez got the start for the Highlanders and worked a scoreless first inning, putting her team in position to take command of the game early. In the bottom of the first, Kull (3B, 3 1B, 3 R) led off with a triple, and Bordine (HR, 2 1B, 3 RBI) then crushed a ball over the left-center fence to put the Highlanders on the board.

“To go yard on my senior night and just continue to have the season I’ve worked so hard for doesn’t seem real,” Bordine said. “I told the girls today that today’s game means just as much as the ‘championship game’ against Steele Canyon. We still have a lot to play for. The girls understood the importance of the game not just for the team but for the seniors, which truly shows how we play for one another.”

Next, Hernandez reached by a hit by pitch, advanced to second on a passed ball, and then scored thanks to a single lined into the left-center gap by Giles (2 1B, 2 RBI, R).

Facing a three-run deficit, Granite Hills’s batters fought back. CHLOE KNEPP (2 BB, RBI) and BREANNA DIAZ (2 BB, RBI) led the second off with back-to-back walks, and PAIGE BAIRD (2 1B, 3 RBI) drove them both in with a single, narrowing Helix’s lead, 3-2.

In the bottom of the second, Nuanez reached on an error to lead things off. She was replaced by courtesy runner VICTORIA VIDRIO, making her first in-game appearance since sustaining a broken finger almost a month prior. One out later, Kull reached on an infield single. With runners on the corners, KORI JONILONIS grounded to the pitcher, scoring Vidrio. Bordine followed with a single lined to the left-field fence, driving in Kull. Third baseman NICOLE HERNANDEZ then lifted a double over the right fielder, scoring courtesy runner DANIKA MUNOZ for the Highlanders’ sixth run of the game.

Heading into the third, the Eagles took advantage of a defensive miscue as SOFIA MUJICA (2 BB) reached on an error and then scored thanks to a double off of the left-field fence by MAKENNA HINES (2B, BB, RBI).

Both teams then went scoreless until the top of the fifth, when Mujica led off with a walk, KAYLA FOX (1B, BB, 2 R) singled, and Hines walked, loading the bases and giving the Eagles a big scoring opportunity. Helix responded with a pitching change, replacing Nuanez with LILY WHITE. Knepp battled and drew a walk, scoring courtesy runner BROOKE LAFALCE (2 R), and then Diaz did the same, driving in Fox. Baird then grounded to third but a throwing error allowed Hines to reach home, scoring the tying run. The go-ahead run then scored thanks to a ground ball to short off of the bat of TAYLOR ROSE (RBI).

Facing their first deficit of the game, the Highlander bats remained silent through the bottom of the fifth inning. In the top of the sixth, the Eagles added an insurance run as FOX reached on a fielder’s choice and then advanced to third thanks to a pair of infield errors. Baird grounded a single through the 5-6 hole to drive FOX in and pad her team’s lead.

Down 8-6 with two innings to go, the Highlander bats finally rose to the occasion. Relief pitcher LILY WHITE led off with a double-lined into the right-center gap. A successful sacrifice bunt by pinch-hitter AMBER YOUNG (SAC) advanced courtesy runner ELAINE MOHAMMAD to third. Kull then reached on another infield single as Mohammad stayed put at third. Jonilonis then flew out to right on a sacrifice fly, scoring Mohammad from third and narrowing Helix’s deficit to one. With two outs, Bordine singled, keeping the rally alive and putting runners on first and third. Hernandez then pulled a seeing-eye single through the 5-6 hole, driving in the tying run. Giles then dropped a single into left-center, driving in the go-ahead run, in the form of courtesy runner IVY GREENE. Finally, center fielder ANGEL RIGGINS (1B, 2 RBI) lined a changeup into right-center for a single, driving in a pair and giving Helix the 11-8 lead.

Helix pitcher LILY WHITE silenced the Eagle bats in the top of the seventh to secure her team’s 23rd win of the season, breaking the program record for most wins in a season, set in 1994. The Highlanders also extended their current win streak to 11 and capped a perfect 10-0 record within the Grossmont Hills League for the first perfect league record since West Hills finished 9-0 in  2014.

With their regular season finished, the Highlanders await the CIF playoff bracket release, scheduled for Saturday afternoon. They should be awarded the No. 1 seed in the Division II playoffs. Meanwhile, the Eagle’s next scheduled contest is their final game of the season, a league matchup on Friday against West Hills.

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