Even with a very young squad this year and rough preseason results, the Newport Harbor High softball team may still be the class of the Newport-Mesa district.
The Sailors continued building their case for that Thursday.
Freshman pitcher Sammy Del Toro recorded both her first win and first save of the season and the Sailors hung on to edge Estancia, 10-9, in a nonleague game at Newport Harbor High.
"Any win is good," said Newport Harbor Coach Russell Hartman after his team improved to 2-11-1.
The two wins have felt very nice, however. Both have come against district foes. Last week it was the Sailors beating Corona del Mar, 8-5, in the Battle of the Bay game.
Del Toro has split pitching time fairly evenly this year with sophomore Haley Martinez, who earned the win over CdM. They are part of a youth movement for Newport Harbor, which starts just one senior, outfielder Mariah Cruz. Two other freshmen, second baseman Kendall Machado and shortstop Diana Surber, earned the start Thursday, while freshman Molly McWhertor was a pinch-hitter.
"It has been rough," Hartman said. "Not only are they freshmen, but we don't have any travel-ball players, so they're inexperienced. They maybe haven't seen some of the speed of the game that they've been seeing out here. We're definitely going through some growing pains. It's going to be a process."
Newport Harbor built a 6-2 lead after scoring six unearned runs in the bottom of the third inning. Five of Estancia's six errors took place in the frame, although Surber and leadoff hitter Shea Horvath did have bunt singles and Martinez recorded an RBI double.
Estancia (10-3) twice cut its deficit to two runs, the second time in the sixth inning when senior pitcher Kelly Hinkle led off with a single. One out later, Karina Catalano walked, and both players eventually came home on an infield throwing error, trimming Newport Harbor's advantage to 8-6.
But the Sailors added two more runs in the sixth, with Machado and Surber both hitting run-scoring doubles.
Hartman pulled Del Toro after five innings and inserted Martinez in the circle. Estancia threatened to come all the way back in the seventh.
Senior Bryanna Vernon led off with an infield single, before senior Chloe Davis stroked a single to left. Maya Van Den Heever then reached on a bad-hop single to second base, scoring Vernon and cutting the Sailors' lead to 10-7.
The potential tying run came up to bat for Estancia. At this point, Hartman went back to Del Toro at pitcher.
"Haley doesn't throw a changeup, and I kind of felt that we needed somebody to throw some off-speed at them," he said.
Del Toro got a strikeout before Estancia hit a grounder to shortstop. The throw went to second base, but no runner was headed there. Davis and Van Den Heever both scored on the play, the second run coming on a close play at the plate involving Newport junior catcher Zoey Myers.
Myers, one of the most experienced Sailors as a three-year varsity player, did not take time to fret. She quickly threw back to second base, getting a big second out by nailing the Estancia runner who was trying to advance.
"In the moment, I thought I got [Van Den Heever] out," said Myers, a cleanup hitter who also had contributed a two-RBI double in the fourth inning. "After that play, I just threw it back to second because I saw her running. You just always have to be ready for the next play, no matter what. The play's never over until [the ball is] back with the pitcher. You've got to always be on your toes and ready for anything."
Del Toro then recorded her fifth strikeout of the game to end it.
Horvath, Surber and Machado each had two hits for Newport Harbor, which begins Sunset League play at home against Huntington Beach on Tuesday. The Sailors broke a 53-game league losing streak by beating Fountain Valley last year, but still finished in last place with a 1-9 league record.
The league again is tough, as Marina is ranked No. 2 in CIF Southern Section Division 1 and Huntington Beach is No. 7. Hartman said the Sailors, who made four errors against Estancia, need to clean up their defense to stay competitive.
"We're in one of the toughest leagues, and we're probably the least experienced team in our league," Myers said. "That's probably bad to say, but we're the least experienced team in our league. But that doesn't mean we're not going to try our best and give our all. We'll do our best to get around that, put the ball in play and play our best defense. It's scary, but possible."
Stephanie Enriquez, Felicia Rios, Van Den Heever and freshman Isabelle Morales added hits Thursday for Estancia, which beat Laguna Beach in its league opener and resumes play at rival Costa Mesa on April 15.
Davis, a team captain, said Estancia can't afford to get discouraged after Thursday's loss.
"We just kind of shut down in a way [in the third inning], but I think we snapped back," Davis said. "We've been working really hard. We got back to what we originally do as a team ... I think it's really amazing how far we've come since last year."
Newport Harbor 10, Estancia 9
SCORE BY INNINGS
Estancia 002 202 3 – 9 8 6
Newport 006 202 x – 10 11 4
Hinkle and Vernon; Del Toro, Martinez (6), Del Toro (7) and Barrios, Myers (6). W – Del Toro, 1-5. L – Hinkle, 10-3. Sv – Del Toro (1). 2B – Martinez (NH), Myers (NH), Machado (NH), Surber (NH).