OC and Inland Empire: El Modena holds off second-seeded Etiwanda in Div. 1 softball

ORANGE — The El Modena softball team entered the seventh inning with a seven-run lead Wednesday afternoon against second-seeded Etiwanda, but as the Southern Section playoffs have shown so far, there’s no such thing as an easy victory.

Etiwanda peppered El Modena starter Haylie Wagner with line drive after line drive in the final inning of the Division 1 second-round game and eventually loaded the bases with the tying run, Taylor Thomas, on first. Jenna Isbel then lined a pitch into the left-center field gap, but the Vanguards executed a perfect relay and shortstop Alyson Kulp threw out Thomas at the plate to preserve the 12-11 victory at El Modena High.

“They’re a tough team,” Wagner said. “We knew they were going to come out and hit the ball.”

El Modena will travel to Valencia for Thursday’s quarterfinals.

The matchup between El Modena and the Eagles was expected to be a low-scoring game featuring the Michigan-bound Wagner (20-6) against Etiwanda pitcher Melissa Taukeiaho, who has signed with Washington.

But it was the hitters who came alive as the game wore on.

Wagner’s two-run single in the third gave the Vanguards a 3-1 lead and they tacked on two more in the fourth to stretch it to 5-2. The Eagles tied the score, 5-5, in the fifth on a two-run double by Kelsey Barak, but El Modena answered with six runs in its half of the fifth, highlighted by a two-run homer from No. 9 hitter, Mikaela Viloria.

“She came through for us,” Wagner said. “It was great to see her hit a home run.”

The Vanguards (20-7-1) added another run in the bottom of the sixth to take a 12-5 lead, and that run proved to be valuable as Etiwanda rallied in the seventh.

Wagner, who had three hits and four RBIs, said the Vanguards play a different style than Etiwanda is used to seeing.

“We’re a lot more aggressive,” she said.

Etiwanda (23-4) joins top-seeded Esperanza as early upset victims in Division 1. The top two seeded teams in Division 2 have also been eliminated.