The rock-solid mountain at third base is Merilis Rivera, and she has known her share of ups and downs.
The nature of softball, both as a hitter and a third baseman, can be a loopy swing of highs and lows. Even for Rivera, aptly nicknamed “Mama” at an early age. She is, in many ways, a caretaker of the spirit for a Mililani team that is often conjoined at heart. In huge battles against Pearl City and Campbell within the past week, the Lady Trojans have persevered through struggle.
They’ve also celebrated with a glee unsurpassed in what has become a spring of surprise and suspense on the diamond for the OIA and ILH, in softball and baseball. That’s partly why Rivera, after clubbing a three-run home run and then a crucial RBI single in a 5-4 win over No.
1 Campbell on Thursday, had only words of mercy for her opponent.
“I just wanted to poke the ball somewhere and get on base. I’ve got to give it up to Dani (Cervantes). She always puts up a fight,” Rivera said.
That fact may be why Rivera went after the first pitch offered by Cervantes, the Campbell ace, in the bottom of the third inning. In her previous at-bat Rivera was down 1-2 in the count before flying out to right field, where Campbell’s Nikki Corla made a diving catch in the gap.
Now Coach Rose Antonio’s Trojans squad is in first place at 9-2 in the OIA West, a division that keeps churning out state-title teams and academically-eligible Division I college softball players as well as any league or division statewide. And without the $20,000 annual tuition of its top competitors in the city.
It wasn’t just Mama, though. The Trojans still weren’t flawless defensively, but had just one error along with some stupendous gems. Rivera was solid as always at the hot corner. Shortstop Tarah Aniya and second baseman Maya Yoshiura showed amazing reflexes, timing and flexibility on a game-ending 6-4-3 double play — Yoshiura palming the ball on the lob from Aniya and turning 180 degrees for the throw. First baseman Shannon Pascua-Stanton was key on at least a couple of stretches for putouts from her infielders.
The throw home in the top of the sixth inning by Mililani right fielder Tracie Okamura was quite possibly a game saver. Her 9-2 double play was a bazooka launched and aimed with precision, giving catcher Markie Okamoto just enough time to tag out Corla, the baserunner. A bounce on the throw, a foot higher or to either side and Corla would’ve been safe with the tying run.
Now the Trojans are one step closer to a top-two finish in the West, which guarantees nothing more than a first-round bye in the OIA playoffs. But the chapter is nearing a close on how the wild West was won.