Chino Hills softball fends of St. Lucy’s, wins Sierra

Given its seven scholarship players, 19 consecutive wins and national ranking of No. 19 on espn.com, the Chino Hills High School softball team isn’t short on intimidation. Accordingly, the Huskies affected Friday’s showdown with St. Lucy’s for the Sierra League championship before they even took the field.

St. Lucy’s strategy to surprise the Huskies by starting its No. 2 pitcher didn’t pan out as Chino Hills scored all of its runs in the first three innings of a 7-3 victory over the second-place Regents. With two regular-season games remaining, the No. 1 team in CIF-SS Division 3 has assured itself the top spot in league by fending off St. Lucy’s (18-5, 5-2), the No. 3 team in Division 3 that could have earned a co-league title had it been able to avenge its April 18 11-2 loss to Chino Hills (24-3, 7-0).

Pitcher Danielle O’Toole, who has started in the circle for 13 of St. Lucy’s 18 victories, didn’t enter until the fourth inning and allowed no runs on four hits in the final three innings.

“In a game like this when you’re trying to win a league championship, I was very surprised they didn’t start (O’Toole),” Chino Hills coach Mike Southworth said. “We’ve hit her in the past, but things can change. For her not to start, there must have been a major reason.”

To St. Lucy’s credit, No. 2 pitcher Caroline Smith entered the game 5-0 with a 2.14 ERA. Staked to a two-run lead before she even took the field, Smith’s defense didn’t much aid her cause.

Chino Hills tied the game in the second inning with an unearned run after the leadoff runner reached on an error. It was the Huskies’ five-run third inning, Smith’s last in the circle, that decided the game.

“We were hoping that we would catch them off balance with our decision to change up the pitchers,” St. Lucy’s coach Ryan Nuveman said. “But they got some timely hits and we made a couple mistakes (in the third inning).”

With two outs and the bases loaded in the third, a sharply hit ground ball by Chino Hills’ Brogan Hoenish deflected off the St. Lucy’s third baseman and allowed two runs to score. Chino Hills left fielder Alexis Martinez, who was 2 for 3 with three RBIs, then took advantage of the extended inning by stretching for an outside pitch she pulled into short left field for a two-run single to make the score 7-2.

“I didn’t think 5-2 was going to be enough,” Southworth said. “Brogan’s hit was big but (Martinez’s) hit was even bigger. I felt a lot better after that.”

Like it did the first time the two league titans met, St. Lucy’s took an early lead when shortstop Laura Swan, hit a two-run home run.

After allowing three first-inning hits, Chino Hills senior pitcher Nikki Innamorato gave up just three more in the final six innings. The senior escaped a jam in the sixth with the bases loaded and no outs, surrendering just one RBI single before two strikeouts and a groundout ended the threat.