SAMOHI — Celisha Walker knows a thing or two about helping her own cause.
The junior pitcher threw a two-hit shutout with 12 strikeouts, but it was her bat that helped ice a 4-0 win over South Torrance in the first round of the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section Division IV playoffs on Thursday.
“It helps to do both,” Walker said of her overall performance. “My approach at the plate has changed, it’s working.”
With her team up 2-0 in the second inning, Walker came to the plate with a pair of runners on base. She battled South Torrance starting pitcher Jessica Cherness through a long at-bat that saw her foul off a number of pitches before stroking a double to left field bringing home Hayley Condon and Meghan Bradley making the score 4-0, a lead Samohi would preserve.
With a lead firmly in hand, Walker cruised through the rest of the game until the seventh inning. Leading off the away half of the inning, South’s Julie Martin wasted little time slapping a double to left field giving the Spartans their first credible scoring opportunity of the game. With a runner in scoring position, Leanna Flores tapped a grounder back to Walker who attempted to get the lead runner at third, but the ball was bobbled putting South runners at the corners with no outs.
“I wasn’t too worried,” Walker said of the situation. “As long as I kept my head in the game I knew I would be OK.”
She struck out the next batter she faced, Tina Yeghiayan, and forced pinch hitter Jeanette Finley to fly out to center field. With two down up stepped Alex Kossoff who hit a harmless grounder back to Walker who recorded the game’s final out at first.
“(Walker) was probably the toughest pitcher we’ve faced all year,” South Head Coach Dana Kuwahara said. “She just kept throwing that changeup and my girls didn’t figure it out until late in the game, which was too late.”
Samohi Head Coach Debbie Skaggs praised South’s effort in the loss and said she was just happy to get the win against a formidable opponent that her team was playing for the third time this season, beating the Spartans for a second time. Cherness led South to victory against Samohi earlier this season.
The second time around wasn’t as successful for Cherness, but Walker said she benefited from being familiar with South. While she missed the previous two meetings with an injury, Walker said she used the time on the bench wisely by closely watching the Spartans’ hitters at the plate.
“I just kept the ball away and down,” Walker said of her approach. “It stunk watching from the bench [earlier this season], but it gave me an advantage.”
With the win Samohi advances to the second round of the CIF-SS playoffs. The team will face the winner of the Buena-Bishop Montgomery game. The Vikings must wait for the result of that matchup to determine where the next game will be played. Second round games will take place Tuesday, May 26.
“As long as we keep hitting the ball we’ll be fine,” Skaggs said of the rest of the playoffs.