Rio Sports Live

Rio Hondo seniors overcome pandemic-ridden season, upkeep winning tradition

Pictured top, from left are Abbie Torris, Kelsey Pizarro, Savanna Gonzalez, Emma Serna; bottom row, from left, Alex Tello, Domo De Jesus and Malorie Atkinson. (Photo by Kevin Narro / Rio Sports Live)

By KEVIN NARRO | Rio Sports Live 

RIO HONDO — Three years ago, Rio Hondo found themselves trailing against Devine 11-2 in the area round. On the brink of elimination, Rio Hondo wound up pulling off a dramatic 13-12 walk off win for the area title. 

At the time, a young freshman core consisting of Domo De Jesus, Kelsey Pizarro, Emma Serna, Abbie Torris and Savanna Gonzalez were thrusted into the varsity scene and expected to help fill different roles on the field. 

Against Devine, it was De Jesus who provided the walk-off magic to seal the Rio Hondo comeback victory and helped set the tone for that freshman class over the next three years. 

“That night really did it,” De Jesus said. “No matter what age you are or grade level you are in, you have to step up. You are on the varsity so when stepping onto the practice field you knew it was real and we had to step in and had some big shoes to fill.” 

This 2021 class has put together a strong resume, leading the way for the last four of what is now seven straight district titles. In 2018, Rio Hondo went 14-0 in district play and made a run to the regional quarterfinals, followed by a Sweet 16 berth and a 13-1 district campaign in 2019.

And while the 2020 season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the now-senior class has picked up where they left off in 2021, with a 9-0 record (12-0 overall) and a win away from an undefeated district title.. 

“They had to grow up pretty quickly,” Rio Hondo coach Lizzette Esparza said. “Luckily, they are kids who have a lot of grit, fight and knowledge of the game. They were not scared  —  it was the culture that was established before them. If it was your turn, you had to do it for the team and the girls fed off of that and there was no time to think. They are the kind of kids to where they have to step in and get it done.”   

For Pizarro, she looked up to former Lady Bobcat Bianca Cruz, a senior in 2018. Pizarro, who is a natural shortstop and a force in the circle, was a young girl of few words who soaked in the environment around her. 

“When I was a freshman, the seniors really left a mark on our program and for me, Bianca Cruz was a role model for me,” Pizarro said. “She went D1 and that is my goal. We had to put our foot down and step in and lead even if we were freshman, we had to step in and help lead the way.” 

With the pandemic putting a halt on the 2020 season, Rio Hondo, like everyone else, had to regroup and adjust to the new normal. This year, Rio Hondo had three preseason games and got their district play going with multiple question marks. 

Since then, it has been about the next man up and multiple pieces to the puzzle have stepped in and helped fuel Rio Hondo to another district title. 

Along with De Jesus, is the athletic play of the outfield with Gonzalez, Serna and Malorie Atkinson — multi-sport athletes who have provided Rio Hondo with speed on the field and at the plate. 

Behind the plate is Torris, who had big shoes following 2018 graduate Abbie Alvarado. Since then, Torris has filled the role with mastery and has been one of Rio Hondo’s best hitters at the plate.  

After celebrating senior night this past Tuesday, Rio Hondo has one regular season game left before they begin their playoff.

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