Winning was something that the Corona del Mar High softball team got to experience just once in Carly Smith's first year at the helm.
The Sea Kings came out on the wrong side of the score every time but once last year. They finished 1-21, only winning a nonleague game against Costa Mesa.
CdM showed Tuesday that it could again beat the Mustangs, taking a 7-1 decision at Bonita Creek Park.
But this time, it's more than just a footnote. It's a continuation of the momentum the Sea Kings have been building in the early part of the season.
They are now 6-4, including a strong fourth place at the Costa Mesa tournament and second-place bracket finish at the La Quinta tournament.
Smith, the former catcher at Canyon High and Concordia University, has seen her players' attitudes shift.
"When we first started winning, the girls were like, Oh my God, this is crazy!" Smith said. "Now it's kind of like, OK, this is what we're supposed to do, and how are we going to take care of business? We like the winning feeling, how are we going to keep it going? Yeah, definitely more positive attitudes out here. They want to win."
CdM senior Miley Wilson certainly helped enable that Tuesday. She pitched five sparkling innings, allowing just four hits and one unearned run. She struck out five and walked none. The Sea Kings' other pitcher, junior lefty Sydney McKeown, came on to pitch the final two innings.
Wilson and McKeown are each in their third year pitching on varsity.
"We do a one-two punch," Smith said. "We try to get them both into the game."
CdM took the quick lead after McKeown led off the bottom of the first inning with an infield single and stole second. She eventually scored on a two-out balk, but Costa Mesa junior pitcher Arianna Morales got out of the bases-loaded jam by earning a strikeout.
CdM scored again in the second, when senior shortstop Karley Johnston earned a bases-loaded walk. But Morales again managed to stop the bleeding, getting back-to-back pop-ups to Mesa freshman shortstop Brenna Alvis.
Coach Heather Orduna said she was proud of Morales, who has pitched every inning for the Mustangs (0-9) this year. Orduna said Mesa lost its starting catcher on Monday, when MeiLani Silk unexpectedly transferred out of the school district. Jasmine Herrera filled in on Tuesday.
"She's working her butt off to get better and better every game, every pitch," Orduna said of Morales. "She was pitching to a new catcher today. And was able to adjust and do really well at that too."
Herrera is one of just two returning players for the Mustangs. The other, senior Katie Chapel, is just coming back from a broken finger. But others also are showing promise. Alvis, who Orduna said has the most experience of anyone on the squad, had a hit in four at-bats and stood out defensively.
"Of the 10 who played today, I had two outfielders that were juniors, and the whole infield was freshmen and sophomores," Orduna said. "This is a tough season, we're still looking for that first win ... [but] I feel like they played like they're ready to win, they're ready to battle."
The Mustangs trimmed their deficit in half in the bottom of the third. Mesa junior Jennifer Garcia led off with an infield single and scored with two outs on a controversial play. Kintak Keju hit a grounder to shortstop, but the throw to first pulled the CdM first baseman off the base. The umpire originally still called Keju out, but changed his call, and Garcia scored from the third on the play.
But CdM added another run in the bottom of the fourth on McKeown's RBI single, then the floodgates opened in the sixth. The speedy McKeown, who finished three for four with two runs scored, got on base with a one-out infield single. Wilson followed with a triple to left, then with two outs, she was batted in when freshman Brooke Franson tripled to center.
Senior designated player Amanda Penna singled home Franson, giving the Sea Kings a 6-1 edge. And, after Jordan Calvin also singled, Raine Finley followed with an infield single to score Penna.
McKeown got into her own bases-loaded jam in the top of the sixth, but induced a fielder's choice groundout and swinging strikeout to get out of it.