OC and Inland Empire: Lee homer lifts Corona Santiago into softball semifinals

HUNTINGTON BEACH — Brenda Lee wasn’t trying for a home run in extra innings of the Southern Section Division 1 quarterfinal, but she readily admitted to “swinging out of my shoes.”

Lee, a senior third baseman and the No. 9 hitter for the Corona Santiago softball team, blasted a solo home run with two outs in the top of the eighth inning Thursday afternoon against Marina, then snagged a line drive with the winning run on second base to cement the 4-3 victory at Marina High.

“It was the best feeling I could ever have in the world, knowing that I did that for my team,” Lee said. “Making the last play also was the best thing ever.”

With the victory, the Sharks advanced to the semifinals Tuesday at El Modena in Orange.

After the Vikings tied the score, 3-3, in the bottom of the sixth, Santiago looked in good position to retake the lead in the top of the seventh after loading the bases with one out, but Marina freshman pitcher Tera Blanco struck out Danielle Hernandez and then induced Brittany Abacherli to ground out to second.

Marina then appeared as if it might win the game with a home run in the bottom of the seventh, as freshman left fielder Kristen Struett led off with a deep fly to left, but the wind kept the ball in the park and it fell just short of the fence.

Early on, it appeared Blanco would be tough to beat. She retired the first eight batters and did not allow a hit until Hernandez cracked a two-out line drive down the left-field line in the fourth. Struett dove for the ball but came up short, allowing it to roll to the fence. Erin Rodriguez, who had walked with two out, scored from first and Hernandez made it all the way to third.

The next batter, Abacherli, singled up the middle to give the Sharks a 2-1 lead.

The Vikings tied the score in the bottom of the fifth. With runners on first and third and one out, Nicolette Lujan hit a grounder to second. Santiago tried to turn a double play, but the throw from shortstop Carissa Turang hit Amanda Cordeiro in the helmet as she prepared to slide into second, allowing pinch-runner Desiree Hagberg to score from third.

The Sharks went back ahead in the sixth when Lujan misplayed a ground ball to short with one out and the bases loaded. Marina tied the score in its half of the sixth when Sandra Simmons scored all the way from second on a two-out infield single to deep short by Jamie Sullivan.

The Vikings didn’t put another runner on base until Lily Dudrey was hit by a pitch with one out in the eighth, followed by a walk to Simmons. After Chloe Kaneko flew out to left, Dudrey and Hagberg advanced on a wild pitch. Sullivan then stepped up and lined the ball at Lee, who made the catch for the final out and then spiked the ball in celebration of Santiago’s second trip to the semifinals in three years.

“I’m just so happy that this happened,” said Lee, who will attend Molloy College in Rockville Centre, N.Y. in the fall. “I’m a senior and this is our last day of school. It could have just been the best day ever, hitting that home run and that last play.”