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Valley Christian crumbles again late after gaining early lead

Right fielder position on a baseball diamond

OLYMPIC LEAGUE BASEBALL

By Loren Kopff

The pressure of defending its Olympic League championship of 2012 is beginning to mount very quickly for Valley Christian’s baseball team. What started out as a 2-0 start back on Mar. 19 has suddenly turned into a five-game losing streak with the fourth of those five losses coming in a 6-4 home setback to Maranatha last Friday night.

The Crusaders were cruising along through the first five innings thanks to the pitching of senior Nico Morandini. V.C. was sporting a 4-1 lead after five innings but the Minutemen sent 10 batters to the plate in the top of the sixth and scored four runs, then added an insurance run in the seventh. Following the game, V.C. head coach Sean Buller vented his frustration and stated that he is hoping to find leadership and unity amongst the team.

“This is a twofold loss,” Buller said. “I can’t stand losing and this was a tough one to be in it and then up and then lose it. But at the same time, I’m dealing with the way our team is going right now. They are becoming less and less stabbing losses because our team is reflective of that and we’re having a real hard time figuring out if our guys even want to be out here or not.”

The loss enabled Maranatha to sweep the weekly home and home series and take the season series 2-1. The Crusaders blanked the Minutemen 13-0 to open league action on Mar. 15. But last Friday, the visitors jumped on the board first with an unearned run in the second on a two-out single from Walter Harris.

Despite trailing, Morandini was in a zone early on, getting ahead 0-1 seven times, ahead 0-2 another nine times and having the Maranatha hitters put the ball in play on the first pitch seven times within the 27 batters that he faced on the night. In fact, he accomplished those three feats on the first 13 batters he faced before walking Helio Higley to begin the fourth. Morandini, in his sixth start of the season, went into the sixth inning, scattered five hits, walked six and struck out four.

But he allowed two straight hits and walked Kosmo Brown to load the bases with none out in the sixth. That was followed by an error, a strikeout and another walk before Buller replaced him with junior Troy Craddock.

“Even going into that last inning, he was throwing strikes,” Buller said. “His arm felt good and he was establishing himself. The base hits that he gave up and the misses were just balls that he left up around the plate. He had really good things. Our biggest negative all year with all of our pitchers is leadoff walks, hit batsmen and those runs scoring and that’s exactly what happened again.”

V.C. got on the board in the bottom of the fourth when senior first baseman Clayton Granch doubled to right field with one out. After senior shortstop Patrick Avila sacrificed him to third and a walk to Morandini, Granch tied the game on a balk. Morandini put the hosts in front when he came home on a double steal in which Craddock was thrown out at second.

In the next inning, after a pair of strikeouts, junior center fielder Cody McKittrick reached on an error, stole second, when to third on an infield hit from sophomore right fielder Nathan O’Toole and scored on another error. On the next pitch, senior catcher Tyler McLurg singled and Granch was hit to load the bases. Another wild pitch from Harris allowed O’Toole to come home and increase the lead to 4-1.

This past Tuesday, the Crusaders (6-13 overall, 2-5 in league) fell two full games out of third place and the last automatic playoff spot with a 7-6 loss to Village Christian in which Valley Christian had a 6-5 lead going into the bottom of the sixth. Valley Christian will host Village Christian today and entertain Heritage Christian on Tuesday.

“They make the same mistakes every day,” Buller said of his team. “I told them about looking up the definition of insanity when we continue to do the same thing over and over again expecting different results. It’s a real frustrating thing as coaches because we work day in and day out and some players are receptive to it and some players aren’t. The results are definitely showing when guys play selfish and not selfless.”

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