After three seasons in the Blossom Valley League’s Santa Teresa B Division, the Live Oak High softball team has moved back up to the A-league Mount Hamilton Division this year.
The last time the Acorns were up in the Mount Hamilton, they finished 1-13. They don’t plan on that happening again, though longtime coach Sarah Porras acknowledged the players will have to be mentally and physically sharp to compete in every game.
“For sure the A league is tough, but I like our girls’ energy,” Porras said. “When they have their head and heart in it, they’re pretty unstoppable.”
The Live Oak (4-4) bats were certainly potent in a 14-13 non-league loss to Valley Christian on March 16. The Acorns, who had just beaten Valley Christian 10-2 four days earlier in the Circle of Champions Tournament, couldn’t stop the Warriors from collecting 20 hits, 15 more compared to the teams’ first matchup.
Bella Altamirano and Maya Lamar—Live Oak’s top two pitchers—were both hit pretty hard. In facing A-league teams like Aragon, Salinas and Valley Christian, Altamirano and Lamar along with the rest of the Live Oak players know what they’ll be facing in the Mount Hamilton.
“For sure it’s going to be a little more of a challenge for Bella and Maya, but we have the bats to back them up,” Porras said. “Hopefully, that helps us get to where we want to be.”
Porras said the team’s goal is to finish in the top four, which carries an automatic berth into the Central Coast Section playoffs. Porras picked a fortuitous time for the Acorns to move up because this season the road to the postseason might be less difficult in the Mount Hamilton.
That’s because with Willow Glen being an overwhelming favorite in the Santa Teresa Division—which carries just one automatic playoff berth—and with the Rams having already beaten Live Oak 17-2 on March 5, trying to get that fourth-place spot in the Mount Hamilton doesn’t sound as daunting as attempting to beat out Willow Glen (8-2) for the top spot in the Santa Teresa this season.
Whatever the case, the Acorns definitely have some pop in their lineup. Leadoff hitter and center fielder Jasmine Mixco made two outstanding plays against Valley Christian, preventing more runs from scoring. In the bottom of the first, Mixco displayed tremendous range in getting in position to snag a ball that was hit hard and dipping fast.
Catcher Deja Jimenez, shortstop Andrea Dejesus, third baseman Hailey Stegall and right fielder Jordan Lara all made strong defensive plays in the Valley game as well. Aida Martins, Dejesus, Stegall, Jimenez, Isabela Panuco, Adrinna Johnson, Lamar and Jordan Lara was the batting order against Valley Christian, and Adriana Miranda, Clara Perez and Alexa Villafranca also had at-bats later in the game.
“We have a deep lineup and any girl on the bench can get it done,” Porras said. “This game particularly proved that. Every girl that came off the bench did her job, so that’s great to see and as a coach you can’t ask for more than that.”
The Acorns finished with 13 hits, and even some of their outs were hard-hit balls. Dejesus reached base four times via two singles and two walks, Jimenez also reached base four times and Johnson had a single and double. Stegall had a two-run double that was part of the Acorns’ six-run sixth that turned a 10-5 deficit into a 11-10 lead.
“Hailey will be a big component for us this year,” Porras said. “She bats in the three or four spot and is so consistent, and you always need a player like that at this level. And Deja is a senior, very vocal and a leader out there.”
The Acorns couldn’t hold onto the lead, as the Warriors answered with four runs in the bottom of the sixth to retake the lead, 14-11. Live Oak kept on battling, though, scoring twice and putting the go-ahead runners on in the top of the seventh. However, one of the Live Oak players was called out at first base on a rarely used rule, and Valley Christian recorded an out on the next batter to seal the victory.
Despite getting hit hard by Valley Christian, Altamirano and Lamar are capable pitchers who can be dominant at times. They both have quality stuff and the ability to make a pitch in key situations. Both are right-handers with decent velocity and high spin rates on their pitches.
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]