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Austin’s outing leads Newport Harbor softball over Estancia

A quick glance at the opening weekend results in the Savanna Showcase would have anointed a clear favorite in an early-season battle between two Newport-Mesa schools.

Estancia High’s softball team headed to Newport Harbor on Wednesday afternoon, having outscored its first two opponents 22-1 on Saturday.

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On the other hand, Newport Harbor failed to push a run across against either Whittier Christian or Westminster La Quinta.

The Sailors coaching staff said that a full complement of players were not available for the team’s first two games due to a ski week. With third baseman Leah Freeman, a former Daily Pilot Softball Player of the Year, not returning for her junior season, the Sailors need all hands on deck.

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Then there was the added component of Estancia coach Michael Hunter’s return to Newport Harbor, where he coached from 2015-16. The game meant a lot to him, but Hunter had to give credit where it was due after the game.

Sophomore Clare Austin struck out seven in a complete-game performance, as Newport Harbor earned its first win in beating Estancia 3-2 in a nonleague game.

“Those kids played a great game,” Hunter said. “I have total respect for those kids. They were opportunistic. They got some balls. I enjoyed watching their defense.”

Newport Harbor (1-2) started six freshmen, all of which batted in the top seven of the Sailors’ lineup. They were patient at the plate, as shortstop Lindsey Blanchfield, first baseman Eliana Gottlieb, second baseman Alexis Amaro, catcher Kendall Kelly and designated player Maxine McNerney combined to draw five walks and a hit-by-pitch.

The Sailors broke through for their first runs of the season in the second inning. Sophomore right-fielder Natalie Palmer punched an 0-2 pitch into right for an RBI-single.

“I just kind of saw it, and it was my third strike, so I just swung at anything close,” Palmer said. “I’m just glad that they didn’t catch it in the air.”

With two outs and the bases loaded, Lily Larkins grounded a ball inside of third base. Dylann Douglass was unable to glove the ball on her backhand, and the error allowed two more runs to score.

Senior shortstop Emily Kubisty doubled in the first. After that, Austin proceeded to post four consecutive hitless innings. She said that she was able to work well on the corners, especially with her curveball.

The sophomore has become the top pitching option for the Sailors after Samantha Del Toro received most of the starts last year. Although she is a team player, Austin says she is excited to see more time in the circle.

“Sammy was fantastic last year, but I’m stoked that I’m getting more mound time this season,” Austin said. “I was pumping myself up, and my teammates helped a lot. They were psyching me up.”

Her teammates helped in another way, as the Sailors’ defense did not commit an error behind Austin.

Estancia (2-1) made it interesting with two runs in the sixth. Douglass singled and stole second. Kubisty drove her in with a single, and Micaiah Watanabe-Patterson hammered a double over the second baseman to bring in Kubisty.

“They would still be chasing it down [if the fence was not there],” Hunter raved of Watanabe-Patterson’s double. “You got to love the fact that we were pretty opportunistic. We didn’t have enough base runners to create any more runs than what we put across.”

The Eagles’ offense took a hit with Dream Team catcher Kalena Shepherd moving out of state.

“You’re not going to replace a .500 hitter with anybody, and she would have been a senior this year,” Hunter said. “I wish her the best.”

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