Winning a Pacific Coast League game is a definite goal of the Corona del Mar softball team this year.
It might not sound like much, but it would mean a ton to the program. The Sea Kings, who have had a strong preseason, haven't won a league game since 2008.
They will not win any by playing "scared," as their coach said they did during Tuesday's league opener against Irvine at home.
CdM fell behind early and suffered an 11-1, six-inning, "mercy rule" loss to the Vaqueros. It is the program's 51st straight league loss.
"It has been tough," Coach Carly Smith, in her second year, said of the program's fate against the Irvine schools in league in the past. "I thought we were going to come out here prepared, like, 'League, this is awesome, this is what we've been playing for.' I thought we were too scared, but now that we've had our first game in league, I think we know what to expect. We need to play smarter than we have in the games that we've played before."
Irvine (6-10) scored five times in the top of the first inning, aided by three Corona del Mar errors. Irvine's Sarah Miles helped Maya Canul score the first run, with a hit off the third baseman's glove. Then, the CdM center field couldn't quite catch Daniela Chambers' deep drive, and another run scored.
After Cheyenne Rogocki walked, Carlie Chaulsett-Utley delivered a two-RBI single to right, forcing Smith to change pitchers. Lefty Sydney McKeown recorded a fielder's choice out, popped up bunt out and strikeout to get out of the jam, but the visitors had a 5-0 lead.
"Our whole defense was a little bit scared today," said Smith, whose squad committed six errors.
CdM (8-7) settled down. Behind 6-1 in the bottom of the fourth inning, the Sea Kings had a golden chance to get closer. Sabrina Sandoval singled to center with one out, and Raine Finley followed with a single to left. Lauren Oberreiter walked with two outs, bringing up the leadoff hitter McKeown.
McKeown, who is hitting around .800 this season and was three for three on Tuesday, continued her red-hot batting. Her chopper back to the pitcher was dropped at first base, though McKeown most likely beat the throw anyway. Sandoval scored, getting CdM on the board. But the chances for a big inning faded as the next batter grounded out to shortstop.
Canul, a sophomore, went the whole way for the Vaqueros. She allowed five hits, striking out six and walking three. CdM senior Karley Johnston earned two of the walks, but the Sea Kings left seven runners on base.
"Our offense has shown that we get runners on," Smith said. "We've just got to put them through. Our offense is there, we just have to execute."
Sophomore shortstop Jordann Utterback led the visitors on offense, going four for five with a double, three runs scored and two RBIs.
The Sea Kings, playing through their spring break, are also currently the walking wounded. Freshman Brooke Franson, the third baseman and usual cleanup hitter, was removed from Tuesday's game late. Franson said she had an MRI on Monday and the doctor said she could have a small tear in her left hip tendon, which may cause her to miss some time. Junior outfielder Kelly Owen was out with mononucleosis, and senior first baseman Amanda Penna (labrum) and sophomore outfielder Amanda Flores (arm) are also playing through injuries.
"It's scary," McKeown said. "And it's all happening at once, too."
But the Sea Kings will have to fight through it. They play Woodbridge at 5 p.m. Thursday at Bill Barber Park, before receiving next week off. Next week is spring break for the Irvine Unified School District.
The Sea Kings can use the time to heal up. And McKeown, a three-year starter and experienced travel-ball player, remains optimistic about CdM's chances in league.
"I definitely think we're going to win a league game," she said. "No doubt."
Pacific Coast League
Irvine 11, Corona del Mar 1 (six innings)
SCORE BY INNINGS
Irvine510 032 – 11 14 1
CdM000 100 – 1 5 6
Canul and Miles; Wilson, McKeown (1) and Oberreiter. W – Canul, 3-6. L – Wilson. 2B – Utterback (Irv), Chambers (Irv).