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By Loren Kopff
The sense of urgency to get a win was growing and growing for head coach Chris Aquino and his Cerritos baseball team. The Dons were mired in a five-game losing streak and had only two wins on the season.
With eight more Suburban League games remaining as Cerritos visited Artesia this past Tuesday, that margin for error was shrinking. But the Dons scored four runs in the top of the third inning and held on for a 6-3 victory. Cerritos (3-13 overall, 1-4 in league) also snapped Artesia’s three-game winning streak.
“We were trying to get our first [league] win just to be able to compete in league and try to get to the playoffs,” Aquino said. “This is the one we really needed. We’re trying to beat the teams we can beat and trying to compete with the other teams. That’s what our goal is right now.”
The Pioneers (4-9, 0-3) grabbed a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first when senior shortstop Cesar Soto reached on an error and later landed at third on another error. He would come home on a sacrifice fly from senior pitcher Gary Smith. But the Dons finally found a way to get to Smith the second time through the lineup. After Smith faced two over the minimum through the first three innings, he faced nine in the fourth, giving up three hits and hitting a pair of batters.
Senior shortstop Jonathan Mura was safe on an infield hit and junior designated player J.T. Mars was hit by a pitch. Two outs later, the bases were loaded after freshman right fielder Jacob Carter was hit by a pitch. That set the stage for senior first baseman Kevin Anderson who cleared the bases with a deep double to the left field fence. Anderson would then score on an error after senior pitcher Brian Diaz singled.
“What I saw the first time through the lineup was they were getting that pitch away,” Aquino said. “I told every guy to crowd the dish because [the umpire] wasn’t calling the pitches in. The away pitches turned into fastballs down the middle and they started making contact.”
“We didn’t come ready to play,” said Artesia head coach Michael Gaoghagan. “The last few games, we figured out the defense and took care of it. Today, we were horrible defensively. We weren’t doing our jobs. We can’t take anyone for granted; we’re not good enough to take teams for granted. If they didn’t realize that before, they certainly do now.”
Artesia cut its deficit in half in the fifth inning when junior left fielder Jeremy Gaskin had an infield single and stole a pair of bases before coming home when Soto was safe on another error. In the next inning, Gaskin’s bases loaded sacrifice fly to center plated sophomore third baseman Cesar Esparza.
But with the tying run still in scoring position, Diaz got Soto to fly out to center, then needed 11 pitches to finish off the seventh for his first complete game of the season. Diaz threw 101 pitches and gave up one earned run.
“He threw marvelous,” Aquino said. “He threw strikes, he competed every single pitch and nothing fazes him. He stepped into the role as a starter and has wanted that opportunity. Now he’s capitalizing on it. This kid is one special kid.”
Cerritos added a pair of unearned insurance runs in the seventh. Junior catcher Jake Liang reached on an error and scored on a wild pitch while Carter struck out but was safe on a wild pitch and later scored on yet another wild pitch.
Artesia will spend the upcoming spring break participating in the St. Paul Easter Baseball Tournament with its first game on Saturday against Oak Park. After their home game with the Pioneers on Apr. 5, the Dons will be off until they visit league-leading Mayfair on Apr. 18.
“I told the kids after the game that we’re trying to use this as momentum as we get ready for Mayfair,” Aquino said. “Hopefully we’ll get the job done on Thursday and carry it over and send a message to the league that we’re here to compete and not just be the doormats of the league.”
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