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Valley Christian’s offense waking up, rally to defeat St. Bernard

By Loren Kopff

ST. PAUL EASTER TOURNAMENT

Valley Christian’s baseball team limped into Spring Break with three victories in its first 12 games and was immediately greeted with a pool play loss to Warren in the annual St. Paul Easter Tournament. But then the defending Olympic League champions flexed their muscles and posted a nine-inning win against San Jacinto this past Tuesday.

The next day, the Crusaders were hoping to keep their momentum going but it wasn’t looking good after St. Bernard tagged sophomore pitcher Kevin Sainz for two runs each in the first two innings. However, V.C. bounced back and came away with a much needed 10-6 victory as it scored seven unanswered runs in the second, third and fourth innings combined.

“We’ve been trying to stress to the guys that no matter what the score is, take one pitch at a time, one inning at a time, get one run at a time,” said V.C. head coach Sean Buller. “[Sophomore third baseman] Jack’s [Struiksma] squeeze of getting that first run through was pretty huge. It was kind of a momentum shift for us.”

With one out in the bottom of the second Nolan Martinez walked Sainz and gave up an infield single to junior center fielder Aaron Kirchner. Then Struiksma laid down a bunt in front of Martinez to bring home Sainz. Kirchner would later score on a wild pitch.

V.C. took the lead in the next inning on a run scoring single from senior catcher Clayton Granch and another sacrifice in front of Martinez, this time by Sainz.

The turning point of the game probably came in the fourth when junior left fielder Cody McKittrick and senior first baseman Nico Morandini worked a double steal with the former making it a 6-2 lead. McKittrick, who reached via a walk, stole three bases in succession while Morandini had two thefts in the inning. As a team, V.C. stole 10 bases.

“Last year we stole second numerous times,” Buller said. “This year we wanted to expand and be putting steals and hit and runs on with runners at second base. That’s our confidence that we have.”

While the offense was manufacturing runs, Sainz was having a decent first start of the season. He went four innings, scattered half a dozen hits and struck out two. He would give way for junior Mitch Torres, a transfer from Lakewood who became eligible on Apr. 1, and junior Troy Craddock. Those two worked the final three innings, giving up five hits and two runs.

“He was a little bit nervous and had a little bit of trouble keeping the ball down early,” Buller said of Sainz. “After giving up those four runs, he held us where we needed to be and gave us a chance to win.”

With St. Bernard closing to within two runs, the Crusaders added on in the bottom of the sixth thanks to a two-run single to left from Granch, plating senior pinch runner Patrick Avila and senior right fielder Tyler McLurg. Granch went three for three while Kirchner and Morandini each had a pair of hits.

“I just put the challenge on for them that we just won two in a row and we beat a ranked opponent yesterday,” Buller said. “We want a three-game winning streak going into our league next week. I think we can build off of this momentum going into next week.”

The Crusaders (6-10 overall) will head back into league action with that aforementioned three-game winning streak as they edged Cantwell Sacred Heart 5-3 this past Wednesday. V.C. will visit Maranatha on Tuesday night in the front end of a home and home series. V.C. blanked the Minutemen 13-0 earlier in the season on a combined three-hitter from Granch and senior Liam Bestian.

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