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Photo by Cara Heise.
Photo by Cara Heise.

Comets start season with pair of wins

SAN MARCOS (1/28/2023) -- For starters, the most recent edition of No. 6 Palomar College softball learned it could win small or win big. 

The eight-time defending Pacific Coast Athletic Conference champions opened the 2023 season in triumphant fashion with a pair of nonconference wins on a chilly Saturday at Bradley Park, the Comets' temporary home while a new on-campus facility is being constructed. 

A first-inning run held up as the only score of the game in a 1-0 victory over Pasadena City College in the season opener for both teams, and a seven-run second-inning outburst carried the Comets to a 14-2 romp over Los Angeles Mission in the nightcap. 

"You really don't know what to expect on the first day of the season," said Palomar coach Lacey Craft. "You haven't played in a long time, and you don't know what's happening with the other teams. 

"I'm glad we got these first games out of the way, but there's definitely a whole lot of things to work on." 

The Comets wasted no time getting on the scoreboard in the first game against Pasadena City. Leadoff batter Faith Steffany, a freshman right fielder out of Rancho Buena Vista High School, singled to right field to start the bottom of the first inning. Steffany then stole second base and advanced to third on an errant throw by the Lancers catcher, putting the Palomar baserunner in position to score on a sacrifice fly to deep left field by sophomore third baseman Aaliyah Rivas.  

The Comets were limited to just two hits the rest of the way, including a two-out double in the second inning by freshman shortstop Itzell De Los Rios (Olympian HS) and a leadoff double in the fourth by Rivas. Despite the lack of additional run production, the Comets prevailed thanks to the combined shutout pitching of Gigi Clavel and India Caldwell and a spectacular game-ending putout at home plate. 

Clavel, a freshman right-hander out of Bonita Vista High, started in the circle and pitched 4 1/3 innings without allowing a run on three hits. She struck out four batters and walked four. 

Caldwell, a sophomore who earned all-conference and all-state honors last season, replaced Clavel with one out and two runners on base in the top of the fifth and struck out two batters to erase the PCC threat. The right-hander then blanked the Lancers over the final two frames to pick up the save. 

"We started a freshman pitcher in our first game and she did a great job," Craft said of Clavel. "There's no pressure on her at all with India returning." 

Pasadena City had runners thrown out at third base and at the plate in the top of the seventh. With runners on first and second with no outs after an error and a base hit, PCC's Marcella Ordonez hit what appeared to be a single to left field, only to see Palomar freshman left fielder Carlee Herrmann (Rancho Buena Vista HS) charge in and throw out the lead baserunner at third. 

The next Lancers batter, Alyssa Guzman, singled to center field, but sophomore center fielder Cadee Herrmann scooped up the ball and fired a strike to sophomore catcher Ellison Hazlett, who made the tag on PCC baserunner Jamie Harris for the final out of the game. 

"We battled out that first win," Craft said. "Ellie did a great job with the tag after an awesome throw from Cadee." 

After Pasadena City dropped a 13-9 decision to Los Angeles Mission in Game 2 of the three-way tripleheader, the Comets took on Mission and banged out 15 hits to collect their second win of the day in a game shorted to five innings by the mercy-run rule. 

"Mission was coming off a big win over Pasadena, and we had to match that intensity," said Craft. 

The first-ever softball matchup between Palomar and L.A. Mission went the Comets' way as Steffany clouted a second-inning grand-slam home run and the Comets sent 12 batters to the plate during the seven-run rally. 

Amato followed Steffany's blast with a solo home run, and last year's Pacific Coast Athletic Conference Player of the Year went on to have a 4-for-4 day at the plate with three RBIs. Steffany later added a run-scoring single and a bases-loaded hit by pitch to account for six RBIs. 

De Los Rios made her first start of the season at third base and collected three hits, sophomore shortstop Elisa Haas had two hits with a stolen base and two runs scored, and Cadee Herrmann reached base three times and scored three runs on a single, hit-by-pitch and a walk. 

Caldwell, an 18-game winner last year, limited the Eagles to a pair of runs on five hits for her first win of the new season. She struck out eight batters with no walks. 

The Comets, who open the season at No. 6 in the 3CFCA preseason poll and No. 3 in southern California, will face San Bernardino Valley College on Feb. 2 before facing Cerritos College on Friday afternoon.