By Kyle Koso
LAKE ELSINORE, CA – For the Corona Angels-Howard 16u team, getting a leadoff batter on base happened exactly once Friday as they took on the NW Bullets-Muir team at the TC Nationals event, while the Bullets managed that on three occasions.
Making the most of rare opportunities ended up defining the moment for both teams at the Rosetta Canyon Sports Complex, with the Angels using that one window to climb through and into the championship bracket in posting a 1-0 victory. Starting pitcher Bridget Nemeth scattered six hits and two walks to go with seven strikeouts in seven innings to get the win for the Angels, who earned one of the top four seeds in the final bracket and will play at 3:30 p.m. Saturday for a chance to reach the semifinals.
The lone run came in the bottom of the fourth inning, as Jiselle Hernandez doubled to start the frame. One of the Angels’ best power hitters, Olivia Hill, showed her versatility and bunted for a single, and then Jayleen Hernandez followed with an opposite-field sacrifice fly to score the run. Hill capped the game with a diving, sprawling catch of a foul ball in left field for the final out.
Jayleen Hernandez looked very composed and prepared for her consequential at-bat that led to the RBI, having hit a ringing double in the second inning.
“That first at-bat, I was maybe lacking confidence because yesterday, I had a pretty bad day,” she said. “Today, I wanted to feel better about my swing, and I have been seeing the ball very well. Every pitch she’d thrown me had been outside, and she wouldn’t throw anything inside unless I had two strikes. I knew the next ball would be outside, too, so I just went with it.”
“We have a lot of energy together; we have this thing going on now with our water guns … whenever anyone hits a home run, we spray them, and that keeps the energy up.”
Energy, focus and a great mix of pitches characterized Nemeth’s work in the circle. Once she had a lead, she truly dug into the task, allowing just two hits and notching four strikeouts in the final three innings.
“I was trying to just keep throwing like I had been doing. The most important thing after we get a lead is to keep the momentum on our side,” Nemeth said. “People are going to get hits along the way; I just try to focus on getting outs. It doesn’t have to be a strikeout, because I know my defense will make the plays. A lot of time after someone got on, the next one would just hit a ground ball and we’d be fine.”
The Angels work with a roster of 22 players, and coach Kim Howard likes what happens when that large group has to dig and scrap for opportunities to shine.
“The girls compete at practice a lot, and they know if they don’t do their job someone else can step in and do it,” Howard said. “This game, our No. 5 batter (Hill), we might bring in someone else to put that bunt down, but she wanted that challenge. We took the bat out of the hands of someone who can hit a home run, and she made a perfect bunt.
“We won both games in pool play, both games yesterday. We did end up in the final day last year but finished fifth – we want to bring that up a bit higher this time.”
Karon Spadafora (a Seattle University commit) had two hits for the Bullets.