Marina builds momentum through strong showing at Michelle Carew Classic

Marina's Mia Valbuena (34) pitches against Poway in the Michelle Carew Classic at Peralta Canyon Park in Anaheim on Friday.
(James Carbone)

The tale of the season for the Marina softball team has yet to be written, but the Vikings unearthed the kind of inspired play they are capable of in the Michelle Carew Classic.

Marina capped its tournament with a 3-0 win over Poway on Friday night, giving it three wins in four games in the annual showcase event at Peralta Canyon Park in Anaheim.

Mia Valbuena tossed five no-hit innings with eight strikeouts, bookending a week in which she earned victories over Chino Hills, Temecula Great Oak and Poway. The Vikings surrendered a total of three runs in four games.

Marina's Rylee Gonzalez (12) celebrates after hitting a double against Poway in the Michelle Carew Classic.
(James Carbone)

“We started off strong,” said first baseman Rylee Gonzalez, who had a game-winning squeeze bunt against Chino Hills on Wednesday. “We just felt like we’re on a roll this tournament, already coming out hot, so we’re excited to be here and glad we could play, especially with the rain coming.”

Gonzalez laced a lead-off double inside the third-base line in the top of the second inning for Marina (14-7-1). She advanced to third on a sacrifice-bunt by Liz Byer, before second baseman Rachel Ruiz brought her in with a ground ball to the left side of the infield.

Catcher Gabby DiBenedetto doubled to start the fourth. Marina would add to its advantage with a run-scoring single by Ruiz. Left fielder Halle Piramo also had a run batted in with a ground ball to third base.

Marina catcher Gabby DiBenedetto (29) gets the out at home and throws to third base for a double play against Poway.
Marina catcher Gabby DiBenedetto (29) gets the out at home and throws to third base for a double play against Poway on Friday.
(James Carbone)

Valbuena’s night in the circle ended early, the only blemish in her outing being three hit batters. The right-handed starter gave way to her twin sister, Avi, a left-handed pitcher.

“Whenever she goes in, I’m always really excited for her because I love to watch her,” Mia Valbuena said when asked about being taken out with a no-hitter intact. “I’m always on the edge of my seat. I want her to do good, so it’s almost as if I’m in there, too.”

Adding to her success in the circle has been increased trust in the defense behind her, the Vikings’ ace said. Ruiz built on top of that foundation, tracking a sinking line drive into shallow right field to save a run in the fourth.

Marina's Rachel Ruiz (9) catches a pop up at second base against Poway in the Michelle Carew Classic.
(James Carbone)

The defense made the difference again in the sixth. A ball ricocheted off shortstop Coral Piramo, but Ruiz was able to get a force out when she stretched out and gloved the ball in the dirt with her foot remaining on the second-base bag.

“I was just trying to get the out,” Ruiz said. “I knew that it would be a close play. I saw it go off of Coral, and I didn’t want an out to be missed out on.”

Poway (11-4-1) had the bases loaded later in the frame, but third baseman Kimmie McDonnell cut down a run at the plate. The return throw from DiBenedetto to third caught a runner off the bag, getting the Vikings out of the jam.

Marina has five games remaining in the Sunset League, where it is currently in fifth place. The Vikings are one game back in the loss column to Edison and Fountain Valley, both of whom they face in the final week of the season.

Marina's Liz Byer (7) slides safe at home against Poway in the Michelle Carew Classic on Friday.
(James Carbone)