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Struiksma leads Valley Christian past Whittier Christian in battle for second place

OLYMPIC LEAGUE BASEBALL

By Loren Kopff

Valley Christian is showing that it is a serious contender to win an Olympic League crown for the first time since 2012. After the Crusaders lost their first five league games and nine of their first 10 last season, they ended the first round at 3-1 with an 8-3 win over Whittier Christian last Thursday night.

Both rivals entered the game in a tie for second place with Village Christian, which is all alone in first place. But the Crusaders scored twice in the bottom of the first inning and three more in the second, eventually building an 8-0 lead.

“Early in the season we’ve been playing a little bit of catch-up with some teams,” said V.C. head coach Michael Dunk. “Let’s talk about Village Christian. We let them have three early runs, and then we scored one in the sixth and one in the seventh and we had bases loaded with two outs. All we needed was a key hit and we probably would have walked off [with a win]. I stress the importance of jumping out ahead and making a statement that we play like we’re the better team.”

Entering the game with the Heralds, V.C. had lost four games by a total of eight runs. But the Crusaders wanted to set the tone early and it began with the pitching of senior Jack Struiksma. After giving up a pair of hits and walking Trevor McGee in between to load the bases, Struiksma came back and struck out Isaiah Carreon and Brett Greene and got Michael Rubio to end what could have been a big inning for Whittier Christian.

“I thought I came out a little bit weak to start,” Struiksma said. “I was glad to get out of that with no runs scored, so, I thought that boosted my confidence a lot and pushed me through the middle innings of the game.

“I knew this was a big game,” Struiksma continued. “We were 2-1 in league and we needed this win. So, I thought this is a big inning right here. If they score, there’s a good chance that they’re going to have the [upper hand] in the game. I just decided I had to bear down and I had to throw strikes.”

With one out in the bottom half of the inning, senior right fielder Nathan O’Toole singled and Chris Thompson walked senior catcher Aaron Kirchner before Struiksma’s base hit loaded the bases. Back to back walks issued to senior second baseman Tyler Radecki and senior shortstop Kevin Sainz put the hosts on the board.

Getting out of the first inning unscathed put Struiksma at ease for the next several innings as he faced the minimum over the next three innings, getting a double play from his defense in the second and third innings.

“I know Whittier Christian likes to do a lot of action plays and for Jack to bounce back and get those two strikeouts and the final out was what really set the tone for the rest of the way,” Dunk said. “He’s pitching because he knows he has something to pitch for and he’s been lights out and just having a wonderful season as well as the wonderful game [tonight].”

Meanwhile the offense, which had entered the game hitting a blistering .353 with 120 hits and 32 doubles through the first 12 games, really didn’t need the hot bats that much because Thompson and Logan Veloff combined to issue nine walks.

In the bottom of the second, Thompson walked Struiksma with the bases loaded before Radecki greeted Veloff with a base hit to drive in Kirchner to make it 5-0. Two innings later with two outs, Struiksma doubled and Veloff walked Radecki before Sainz reached on an error allowing junior pinch runner Roger Ramos and Radecki to come home. Sainz scored the last V.C. run on a wild pitch.

“A lot of these boys…they like to hit,” Dunk said. “They’re very aware of where they’re hitting and what they’re hitting. We really use our chart game and our pitching tendencies to our advantage. We had a little report that [Whittier Christian is] a little wild and so we used that to our advantage.”

Whittier Christian finally got to Struiksma in the top of the fifth when Veloff singled, Matthew Salas was on board via a walk and Damon Holm was safe on an infield knock to load the bases. A one-out error allowed Veloff to come home and a fielder’s choice from Cooper Hughes brought in Salas. Struiksma loaded the bases again in the sixth before Dunk replaced him with senior Jared Algra, who picked up the save.

“In the fifth inning, I think I got a little tired,” Struiksma said. “I wasn’t getting the calls that I wanted but I just had to push through for my teammates.”

Struiksma went two for three while four other players all had one hit. V.C. would then open up pool play of the Century Tournament with wins over Santa Ana Valley (16-0) last Saturday and Garden Grove (4-0) this past Monday before falling to Calvary Chapel Santa Ana 8-2 this past Tuesday. The Crusaders then got by Segerstrom 10-7 this past Wednesday to improve to 12-5 and will be off until hosting Cerritos in a doubleheader on Apr. 17. The 12 wins already match the total victory mark from each of the past two seasons.

“Obviously so far, we’ve been killing the ball,” Struiksma said. “I think our mentality has been to see some pitches at the start of the game, then once we know the pitcher, start swinging. We’ve just been seeing the ball really well and we have a lot of great hitters one through nine through the lineup. I don’t see a guy who’s a weakness. Having that is also great.”

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