WESTMINSTER — In practice this week, Newport Harbor High softball Coach Tony Qualin said the Sailors went over bunting and base running.
His team did neither well Wednesday in the La Quinta Tournament championship game. Twice bunts were popped up and caught in foul territory. Two runners were doubled off second base, and a sign was missed that resulted in another runner being tagged out on a squeeze play.
There's always room for improvement for the Sailors. There was also room in Qualin's hands for a championship trophy.
"They did everything else well," Qualin said of his players after Newport Harbor came from behind to defeat the host Aztecs, 3-1, in the title game at La Quinta High.
His battery played well, with sophomore pitcher Hattie Marshall throwing to sophomore catcher Bella Secaira. Secaira just battered the ball, finishing two for two with a double, a walk and driving in all three of the Sailors' runs. They helped the Sailors (11-2) hand the Aztecs (9-2) their second loss of the year, both coming to Newport Harbor.
The Sailors' core group of sophomores and juniors won their second high school tournament, the first being the Whittier Tournament last year. The La Quinta Tournament doesn't hand out a Most Valuable Player award, but Qualin said his choice would be No. 12 behind the plate.
"She's an intelligent hitter," Qualin said of Secaira, who is now batting at a .658 clip this season (25 for 38). "She waits for a good pitch and she lets the ball get deep, and then she explodes on it. The thing about Bella is that she hits the really great pitching as well as she hits the average pitching. The average player might hit .200 against good pitching and .400 against weak pitching. She hits .400 against everybody – or better.
"And as good as that is, she caught an unbelievably smart game. Hattie pitched a great game, but half of that is Bella. They teamed up to do very well today."
The title game was delayed five days because of wet fields last week, and that hurt the host Aztecs. La Quinta didn't start its ace pitcher, senior Amanda Garcia, who plays on Qualin's Newport Riptide Sharks club team. La Quinta Coach Jeff Nadeau said that was because Garcia had thrown a lot of pitches in the Aztecs' previous game, Tuesday's 13-9 victory over JSerra.
Garcia took the mound in the fifth inning but La Quinta, ranked No. 3 in the CIF Southern Section Division IV coaches' poll, started its normal shortstop Adrianna Cardoza at pitcher. Cardoza pitched around Newport junior Mandy LeGault's double leading off the game, getting back-to-back strikeouts to end a bases-loaded threat.
The Aztecs brought in sophomore Krissy Brewer to pitch in the third, and her defense didn't help her out as Newport Harbor sophomore Lauren Gandi reached on an infield throwing error. Marshall singled to left, and Secaira brought in Gandi and pinch-runner Reid Ling on another single to left, giving the Sailors a 2-1 lead.
Secaira added Newport's third run in the fifth inning. After Gandi singled to right, Secaira belted a double to left this time to score Gandi. It was Secaira's team-best 21st RBI of the season.
That was more than enough run support for Marshall, who allowed just two balls hit out of the infield all game (doubles by Cardoza and Garcia). She went the whole way, allowing one run on five hits. She struck out seven and walked just one, improving to 7-2.
"She was hitting her spots good and she was popping the ball in," Secaira said. "I would tell her to make her adjustments and she would adjust every tiny inch, and it made it good. When she hits that black on the corner of the plate and she's living there, people can't hit off of her. She felt good this game and I felt good this game, so we worked well together. The battery was working."
Sophomore outfielder Hope Nokes also had a hit for the Sailors, who play at Costa Mesa today before entering the prestigious Woodbridge Tournament beginning Saturday.
Newport Harbor plays pool-play games against Martin Luther King of Riverside and Norwalk on Saturday night.
"That's a very big tournament," Secaira said. "That's going to be our really big test on how we play together."
La Quinta Tournament
Newport Harbor 3, La Quinta 1
SCORE BY INNINGS
NH 002 010 0 — 3 6 2
LQ 100 000 0 — 1 5 2
Marshall and Secaira; Cardoza, Brewer (3), Garcia (5) and Wilson. W – Marshall, 7-2. L – Brewer, 0-1. 2B – LeGault (NH), Secaira (NH), Cardoza (LQ), Garcia (LQ).