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Jaelyn Operana’s late homer sends Edison over Newport Harbor

Throughout the years, the Sunset League has not been kind to the Newport Harbor High softball program.

The Sailors’ last win against a traditional Sunset League team — Edison, Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach, Los Alamitos and Marina — came on April 11, 2013, against the Barons.

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With the addition of Corona del Mar and Laguna Beach to the Sunset Conference, Edison and Newport Harbor no longer reside in the same league, but the upstart Sailors had the Chargers on upset alert nonetheless.

Jaelyn Operana ended that possibility, lining a two-run home run over the left-field fence to break a tie in the top of the seventh inning. The Chargers won Thursday’s Sunset Conference crossover game 7-4 at Newport Harbor.

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Operana, a senior corner outfielder, transferred from Huntington Beach to Edison (5-2) after missing much of last season with a torn ligament in her foot. She did not have to run fast as she circled the bases, ingratiating herself to her new teammates with her biggest hit as a Charger.

“It’s fun,” Operana said of joining Edison. “I like the environment here. It’s a good group of girls and I feel like we can make it, a long run.”

Edison High's Isabella Martinez rounds second after hitting a home run in the seventh inning of a Sunset Conference crossover game at Newport Harbor on Thursday.
Edison High's Isabella Martinez rounds second after hitting a home run in the seventh inning of a Sunset Conference crossover game at Newport Harbor on Thursday. (Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Isabella Martinez also homered off Clare Austin, chasing the Newport Harbor relief pitcher from the game. Austin had thrown two scoreless innings upon entering to start the fifth, but a bunt single by Princeton-bound senior Serena Starks to lead off the seventh spelled trouble.

Starks recorded her third stolen base of the game on the very next pitch. Isabella Espinoza laid down a sacrifice-bunt, and Operana broke the tie.

“My mentality was [to] get on base because I knew that Jaelyn was coming up,” Starks said. “Bella Martinez was coming up. Bella Espinoza could bunt me over, so I just needed to focus on getting on base.”

In all, Edison stole nine bases, including a successful double steal that Operana scored on to give the Chargers a 2-0 lead in the first inning.

Newport Harbor (8-4) showed the strides that it has taken as a program, making the adjustment and recording the out at home the next time the Chargers attempted a double steal. Second baseman Leah Freeman cut off the throw from catcher Kendall Kelly, and she fired home to cut down the run.

The Sailors trailed 4-0 after two innings, but small ball helped Newport Harbor get back into the game in the fourth inning. With runners on the corners, Kelly laid down a squeeze bunt to get the first run home. After another sacrifice bunt by Alexis Amaro, McKayla Cotton bounced a run-scoring single over third base.

Eliana Gottlieb tied the score at 4-4 in the fifth inning on a two-out solo home run against Talia Hannappel.

Newport Harbor High's Eliana Gottlieb runs the bases on a solo home run in the fifth innng of a Sunset Conference crossover game on Thursday.
Newport Harbor High's Eliana Gottlieb runs the bases on a solo home run in the fifth innng of a Sunset Conference crossover game on Thursday. (Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Jenna Bloom, an Arkansas signee, came on in relief for the Chargers in the sixth inning. She struck out five of the seven batters she faced. The game ended when Lindsey Blanchfield, who reached on an error, was thrown out trying to steal following Bloom’s strikeout of Gottlieb.

Chargers coach Melissa Roth recognized the improvement in the upset-minded Sailors.

“Newport has kind of been building over the last couple of years, and they got a good freshman [Cotton] in there that kind of kept us off balance, even though we scored a few runs in the first inning,” Roth said. “Then the relief pitcher came in and did her job.

“I tip my cap to them, and we just have to be better.”

Sailors coach Tom Blanchfield said that he hoped his team learned that good things come from keeping pressure on an opponent. Newport Harbor was able to do so in rallying from four runs down to tie the score.

“I wanted to prove to them that we can play with anybody,” he said. “When you come to play us, you’re going to have a little battle. I’m very proud of the girls.”

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