For much of this season, the Newport Harbor High softball team has been surpassing expectations.
An enthusiastic crowd, which included the Newport Harbor cheerleading squad, was treated to the game it was hoping to see at home Thursday.
Eliana Gottlieb drove in all three runs for the Sailors in a 3-2 victory over visiting Ocean View in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 5 playoffs.
“That has never happened,” Gottlieb said of the cheerleaders showing up to their game. “I don’t know if softball is really the cheerleading sport, but it’s really cool to see the school recognizing the team.
“It means so much to all of us to come this far because it’s never happened before. For us to be a part of it is really awesome.”
Newport Harbor (18-9) struck right away. Lindsey Blanchfield led off the bottom of the first inning with a single, and Gottlieb roped a home run well beyond the right-field fence.
“It was an inside pitch, but I was just looking for one that I knew I could hit,” Gottlieb said. “It was right there, and I did.”
Clare Austin threw six-plus innings, allowing two earned runs on five hits. She walked two and struck out one, but she had to come out of the pitching circle after being hit in the thigh on a comebacker by pinch-hitter Wendy Ruiz in the top of the seventh.
McKayla Cotton came on in relief with runners at the corners and nobody out. She struck out Kira Marx. Cailey Collado, who had doubled to lead off the inning, scored on a double steal as Regan Preciado safely slid into second base.
Preciado moved up to third base on a bunt by Ari Hencke, but Paige Coonis was retired to end the game on a ground ball to Sailors third baseman Lily Larkins.
“It felt amazing,” Austin said of the win. “I loved how much the team was behind me. I honestly couldn’t do it without them. I’d like to say that I was doing pretty good until the fateful hit [by Ruiz].
“McKayla pulls through, and I trust her with my life.”
The Sailors did not commit an error in the contest, and Sailors coach Tom Blanchfield called attention to a defensive play they executed in the second inning. When Marx singled to left, Dru Stinson fired the ball in to second baseman Leah Freeman. As Marx rounded first base, Freeman relayed the ball to Cotton, and Marx could not get back to the bag in time.
“We had practiced that a bunch,” Blanchfield said. “I said, ‘I think girls, if we get singles to left field, with this level of play, they’re going to round the base, but there may be an opportunity.’
“I think that just kind of got them in that fielding mode. They all played a terrific game.”
Newport Harbor will host La Cañada Flintridge Sacred Heart (17-5) in the second round on Tuesday at 3:15 p.m. The Tologs defeated Palmdale Knight 9-8 in their first-round game.
Alexis Amaro had a leadoff double that set up the Sailors’ third run in the fifth. Kendall Kelly also doubled in the third.
Paige Coonis doubled and scored on a single by Alexis Murillo in the third for Ocean View (10-12).
Ocean View’s Desyree Arizmendi threw a complete game, allowing three earned runs on six hits. She struck out one and hit a batter, but the sophomore pitcher largely bounced back after Gottlieb’s first-inning homer.
“Desy responds well,” Seahawks coach Liberty McCollum said. “Hits like that do not get in her head. She battles back well, and we have a good defense. It just wasn’t in our cards today.”
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