CORONA DEL MAR — Members of the Corona del Mar High softball team were frustrated late Friday afternoon.
The Sea Kings fell to University, 10-1, in the championship game of the La Quinta Aztec Challenge on their home field. And, while first-year Coach Kiki Muñoz would have rather had her team win the tournament, she said the frustration was actually an encouraging sign.
It was the first tournament championship game appearance for senior mainstays of the program like Delaney Owen and Lindsey Susolik. Muñoz said CdM, which also has a lot of young talent on its roster, will only need to look at Friday's loss as motivation for the rest of the season.
"That fire is burning inside them, that competitor, and that's what I'm trying to build within them," Muñoz said. "You can see it. Today, they're frustrated. In the past, I think they just would have thought it was another game. But you can see the competitive drive coming out in a lot of them now. We're changing the program around, and the girls are doing it. It's not me or the coaches; it's definitely the girls. They deserve all the credit. All we can do as coaches is support them."
Defensively, the Sea Kings (7-5) were not able to support freshman starting pitcher Sydney McKeown. They made three errors behind the lefty, and one costly one put CdM behind in the fourth inning.
With two outs, a well-hit ball to center field by University's Chandler Smith was dropped. The next two batters, Kim Dennin and Katie Hawkins, each followed up with RBI singles to give University a 3-1 lead.
"Our defense wasn't as tight today," Muñoz said. "Errors can kill you."
CdM had taken a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second. Jordan Meyers hit a one-out double to left-center, and she was brought home on an RBI single from Mylie Wilson.
The Sea Kings nearly took the lead again in the bottom of the third, but Susolik was thrown out at home to end the inning. CdM fans in attendance thought that Susolik slid under the tag from the Trojans catcher.
University (7-4) broke the game open in the sixth, batting around and scoring six runs.
"We didn't hit for the first couple of innings," Trojans assistant Coach Mike Hawkins said. "Then we got used to the speed of the pitcher, got the bats going and started having a hit parade. The girls made good adjustments at the plate."
Meanwhile, University senior pitcher Elaine Tse was settling down.
Tse retired the final 13 Sea Kings batters of the game. Only one of them hit the ball out of the infield. University, a Pacific Coast League foe of CdM, was on its way to its seventh straight win.
"I think we all hit the ball hard, but we didn't hit it in the holes like they were doing," Susolik said. "We were hitting it right at players, and they made the plays that unfortunately we were unable to make at times. That's just going to back to how we weren't mentally there, weren't ready to play."
CdM still appears to be headed in the right direction. It has less than two weeks until its league opener at Northwood on April 3. The Sea Kings have not won a league game since 2008.
Another good test will be Thursday, when CdM plays rival Newport Harbor in the Battle of the Bay at Bonita Creek Park. CdM sophomore first baseman Amanda Penna said the teams are definitely familiar, since many of the players grew up playing rec ball together.
The CdM players know they will need to cut down on the defensive miscues to have a chance in that contest.
"We need to really focus in practice, and communicate a lot more," Penna said. "We can do it. We're capable of it, and we proved that today by [making it] to the championship. It is a big deal. Softball, people don't even know we have a team here. Coming to a championship [game] and having people actually coming to our games, it's really uplifting."
La Quinta Aztec Challenge
University 10, Corona del Mar 1
SCORE BY INNING
Uni 001 216 0 – 10 12 3
CdM 010 000 0 – 1 4 3
Tse and Dennin; McKeown, Penna (7) and Susolik. W – Tse, 6-2. L – McKeown, 1-2. 2B – Meyers (CdM).Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun