LONG BEACH — After struggling defensively, including a first-inning error that contributed to a run scored, Millikan softball player Mikaela Pacheco wanted to redeem herself Tuesday for what she called an “embarrassing” start to the Rams’ CIF Southern Section Division 2 second-round playoff game against La Habra.
“I felt like I had to make up for it somehow,” Pacheco said.
That moment came with a runner on third and one out in the bottom of the eighth. After fouling off several pitches from Highlanders pitcher Marissa Rodriguez, Pacheco squared up a pitch on the outer half and drove it past Rodriguez’s outstretched glove for a walk-off single that gave Millikan a come-from-behind, 6-5 victory in extra innings.
The Rams (20-10) rallied from down three runs to advance to Thursday’s quarterfinal at South Hills.
“I was thinking I had to hit the ball,” said Pacheco, who drove in two runs and finished 2 for 3 with a pair of singles. “I just wanted to hit the ball so badly and just win, more than anything.”
Arianna Ramirez, who was 3 for 4, started the rally with her second double of the game and was lifted for pinch-runner Zoey Galindo.
Millikan coach Michelle Lehr credited Ramirez for her approach against the defensive shift used by La Habra (19-8).
“Clutch,” Lehr said. “She was spraying balls to the right side earlier on, they shifted really hard on her and she pulled a ball hard. That was huge.”
Galindo, who moved to third on Madison Wright’s sacrifice bunt, scored the game-winning run.
Millikan also received a gutsy, complete-game effort from pitcher Ava Schaffel, who did not have her best practice coming into the game, according to Lehr.
“I was nervous,” Lehr admitted.
Schaffel looked anything but, as she struck out 12 batters, including the last two with two runners on and one out in the top of the eighth.
“In the first three innings, I didn’t have all of my stuff,” Schaffel said. “But I knew my team had my back and all I had to do was figure it out and throw strikes. All I had to do was get out of the inning.”
Schaffel allowed just five hits and walked two, but three of the five runs allowed were unearned.
Trailing by a run in the fifth, the Rams committed back-to-back errors with two outs and Rodriguez capitalized with a two-run double to push La Habra’s lead to 5-2.
In all, Millikan committed four errors, and Lehr said the comeback reminded her of a win over Lakewood earlier in the season.
“I knew they had the fight in them,” Lehr said. “There’s no giving up. This was probably, defensively, the sloppiest game we’ve had all year.
“Our pitcher continued to work and shut batters down.”
The loss spoiled what looked to be an impressive, all-around performance from Rodriguez, who finished 2 for 3 with four RBIs.
In the circle, she was two outs away from pushing the Highlanders into the next round until Emily Hanniff doubled for her third hit of the game, scoring pinch-runner Cristin Duncan to tie the game 5-5 in the seventh.
The Rams also received a clutch performance from Wright, who smacked an RBI triple and scored on a wild pitch to cut the deficit to 5-4 in the sixth.
“It’s our energy, we always keep it so high, and we all love each other and want to win so bad,” Pacheco said of the collective effort.