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By Loren Kopff
Ruben Velasquez was hoping the end of this season wasn’t going to be like the past two seasons. The head coach of Norwalk’s baseball team once again saw his team needing a victory over Artesia in the final week of the regular season and some help in order to move on to the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division II playoffs.
The Lancers did their past last Friday afternoon, edging host Artesia 3-2, then later found out that John Glenn had lost to Bellflower, thus clinching a postseason berth for the third season in a row. Norwalk entered the final week of the regular season at 12-12 overall and 6-4 in the Suburban League. It was in a three-way tie for second place with Bellflower and La Mirada while Glenn, which wrapped up its league season last week, ended at 5-7.
“It was boiling down to that again,” Velasquez said. “That ugly picture was coming up [again]. The last couple of years we almost missed the playoffs. Two dropped fly balls, a pop-up and a fly ball to right field a couple of years ago. This is not a fun place to visit for me personally.”
Norwalk had split its season series with Artesia the past two seasons and six of the last eight. The last time the Lancers swept the Pioneers was back in 2000. But the visitors got a stellar pitching performance from senior Anthony Gonzalez, who scattered five hits, gave up one earned run and struck out five for his second straight win and second complete game of the season.
“First and foremost, Anthony Gonzalez did a great job,” Velasquez said. “He pretty much threw the team on his back. He wasn’t going to let anything affect him. He was determined to finish this game and win this game.”
Artesia got to Gonzalez early as the hurler walked senior right fielder Gary Smith in the bottom of the first with two outs and yielded a run scoring hit to junior catcher Tommy Corrales. But the Lancers tied the game in the next inning after leading the bases loaded in the first. Sophomore center fielder Trino Romero reached on a fielder’s choice and Gonzalez singled. Both runners would advance on an error before Romero tied the game on a single from freshman left fielder Jacob Carr.
Norwalk took the lead for good in the fourth when Carr singled with two outs, stole second and scored on an error. In the next inning, senior first baseman Jose Sandoval led off with a base hit, stole a pair of bases and came home on a base hit from senior catcher German Vasquez. However, the Lancers left the bases loaded again and stranded 11 for the game. Artesia’s other run came in its half of the fifth when junior left fielder Jeremy Gaskin, who had reached on a fielder’s choice, scored on Smith’s hit to center.
Last season, the Lancers needed Artesia to lose twice to Mayfair on the last week of the regular season to make the playoffs. In 2010, as Norwalk was having its bye on the final week of the regular season, it had to watch Artesia lose to Mayfair twice in order to clinch fourth place and knock the Pioneers out of the playoffs.
“It’s hard to explain but I tip my cap to coach Mike [Gaoghagan],” Velasquez said. “No matter how bad they are struggling or where they’re at, they come out to play every time. He does a fantastic job over here and they’re determined to win a game.”
Artesia (5-18, 1-9) received a complete game performance from senior Cesar Soto, who lost his second straight 3-2 decision after going the distance both times. The Pioneers, who faced Bellflower this past week, will miss the playoffs for the fifth straight season. Carr and senior third baseman Miguel Castaneda each went two for four for the Lancers, who lost to league champion Mayfair this past Tuesday 12-2. Those two teams concluded the regular season on May 10 at Norwalk. The Lancers will most likely enter the playoffs as the fourth place representatives from the league but following a season-opening sweep over La Mirada, splits with Cerritos and Glenn later in the season hampered their chances of a much better league finish.
“I felt our schedule was favorable that way,” Velasquez said. “We were hoping if we could at least split with La Mirada, let alone sweep them, we were going to be in good shape. It’s been baffling since that week to me and my coaching staff. We haven’t had that intensity, that fire to win since that first week.”
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