By SHEL SEGAL
ALHAMBRA – The Keppel softball team let a 5-4, sixth-inning lead get away as the Aztecs fell to visiting Bell Gardens 8-5 on Tuesday in the Almont League opener. A two-run homer by shortstop April Villalobos with two outs in the top of the sixth gave Bell Gardens the lead. The Lancers (5-11, 1-0 AL) would seal the win with two runs in the top of the seventh by stringing together five singles.
Trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the first, Keppel took a 2-1, courtesy of a two-run double by shortstop Jackie Sandoval.
The Aztecs (3-9, 0-1) took a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the third inning following an RBI groundout by catcher Faith Alenbaugh and an RBI single off the bat of Sandoval.
Keppel took a 5-4 lead in the bottom of the fifth when Sandoval knocked in first baseman Londyn Lau – who had tripled to start the inning – with a groundout to third base.
Londyn Lau said after the Aztecs endured a very difficult preseason schedule, she wasn’t disappointed by Tuesday’s loss as the team showed a lot more heart on the field.
“Honestly, I saw a lot of enthusiasm out there on our team today,” she said. “We came out like a whole another team. That was awesome. I honestly think that carried me over and that motivated me.”
She added she hit some very straightforward pitches for base hits off of Bell Gardens starter Britney Dunne (2-4).
“They were right down the middle and I took it for a ride,” Londyn Lau said.
Lau also said the team is starting to improve as it’s working out above and beyond what the coaches are asking.
“I think we’ve been putting in a lot of work outside of practice,” she said. “We’re just working on cleaning up individual errors and that carried on to the game today.”
Freshman starter Fiona Zeman (3-3) went the distance for the Aztecs, but took the loss. Zeman gave up eight runs on 13 hits, while striking out two against two walks.
Zeman said she is really starting to feel comfortable on the mound with one of her pitches.
“I really like my curveball,” she said. “My curve is the only thing that is consistent. My screwball comes in, but it just doesn’t curve enough and girls get a hold of it.”
Keppel coach Gus Lau said he liked how the Aztecs kept their heads in the game against Bell Gardens.
“That was an A for effort,” he said. “That’s what we ask for from the girls. They put it together. We have a young team. … It’s been tough for them since the beginning of the season. But they came up and they fixed their errors. They came up pretty good today. They worked hard.”
He added he liked how Zeman conducted herself on the mound despite getting tagged for the loss.
“I’m very proud of her,” Gus Lau said of Zeman. “She’s a freshman and she has a lot of potential. By the time she’s a senior, she’s going to be one helluva pitcher. Look for her in the future. … And she went for seven innings. That’s a lot of maturity on her part.”
Bell Gardens coach Camelia Herrera said while she was happy with the win, she thinks her team can do better.
“They’re getting there,” she said. “They’re 100 percent, but I want them to be 110 percent. We’re coming from a couple of defeats and we wanted to do some more.”