There has been reason for more optimism about Back Bay softball this season.
Corona del Mar High and Newport Harbor have made history for their softball programs. It was the first meeting between the rivals that resulted in the Sea Kings taking home their first tournament championship as a program in Laguna Beach’s Battle at the Beach on March 16.
Since then, Newport Harbor stepped into the spotlight, taking advantage of the opportunity to play in a more balanced Wave League.
The Sailors dropped the first meeting of the season versus the Sea Kings, but won the next three.
Kendall Kelly and Eliana Gottlieb each had two hits and two runs batted in to lead the host Sailors to a 6-2 win over CdM on Friday.
The Sailors (17-7, 8-0 in league) clinched the Wave League title on Tuesday with a 12-0 victory over Laguna Beach at Thurston Middle School.
Newport Harbor athletic director Jerry Murray said he conferred with Eric Tweit earlier in the week, and without complete records, the two of them believe that the school had never won a league title in softball.
Sailors coach Tom Blanchfield said that everyone on the team knows what it feels like to play on a team that is just playing out the string, which has added to the players’ enjoyment.
“The girls seem to be excited,” Blanchfield said. “[Our players have] never been in the playoffs, and they all seem pretty bought in to the program. They’re really just supportive of each other.”
Kelly had two run-producing hits, including a double to left-center field that gave the Sailors their biggest lead, 6-0 in the fourth inning.
The sophomore catcher said that playing a close game against traditional Sunset League foe Edison in Sunset Conference crossover play on March 14 gave the team confidence. She also said that having fun on the field has gone hand-in-hand with the team’s successes.
“Last year, if you came to one of our games, it was probably dead silent in our dugout,” Kelly said. “This year, we’re cheering each other on, and we’re having so much fun on the field. I think it’s showing in our record.”
McKayla Cotton earned the victory, holding the Sea Kings (12-12, 2-5) scoreless until Makena Tomlinson broke up the shutout with her third hit of the game in the fifth inning.
The first inning presented an opportunity for CdM to take an early lead. Sydney Walls, Trasara Alexander and Tomlinson all had singles, but Cotton was able to pitch out of the jam by striking out the side.
Kelly and Cotton had run-scoring singles in the bottom half of the first. Newport Harbor doubled its lead to 4-0 in the second on a two-out line-drive double to center field by Gottlieb.
Leah Freeman and Lindsey Blanchfield also had two-hit games for the Sailors. Lily Larkins, Alexis Amaro and Clare Austin each had one hit.
“I did not experience any of the struggles that this team had, but I can tell that they’re happy,” said Cotton, a freshman. “They can tell that they’ve been improving, so I just feel like our team is really great this year.”
The Sea Kings had a couple of calls that did not go their way. In the bottom of the third, Blanchfield’s run-scoring single flirted with the left-field line.
In the next half-inning, Samantha Uehara came up with runners on the corners. She appeared to beat out a double-play ball to give the Sea Kings their first run, but she was called out.
“I don’t like calls that can go either way,” Sea Kings coach Jordann Wakabayashi said. “This year, especially, it feels like we’ve had a lot of calls not go our way, and it’s been really frustrating.
“We have to play a good enough ballgame where those kinds of calls don’t hurt us, or they don’t hurt us so badly that it starts to bury us.”
The Sea Kings have a pair of road games against Laguna Beach next week. If they win both games, they will finish with a winning record and be among the hopefuls for an at-large selection into the CIF Southern Section Division 6 playoffs.