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PAUL EASTER TOURNAMENT: Offense continues to struggle but Cerritos captures third place in AA division

 

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter

 

LAKEWOOD-There are no words that the Cerritos High baseball coaching staff can say for the recent hitting slump the Dons have been in. Entering their game with Rolling Hills Prep High this past Wednesday for third place in the AA Division of the St. Paul Easter Tournament, the Dons had managed just 20 hits in their past seven games, going 3-4.

Cerritos would get five hits against the Huskies but none was more important than a two-out, one-pitch single to center from senior shortstop Trevor McInerney in the bottom of the fifth inning, scoring senior left fielder Alex Hernandez. The run held up in a 1-0 win at Clark Field, the third straight contest by that score Cerritos has played in. The Dons improved to 15-10 overall.

“A win is a win and we’re in a little slump right now hitting-wise, but we’ll take it,” said Cerritos assistant coach Brooks Walling. “Spring Break is always tough. It’s tough to get kids fired up. Looking ahead to Glenn next week, they know our season is on the line. So, I think we took this kind of lightly.”

While the offense has been sputtering, the pitching has been the opposite and one of the reasons why the Dons have managed eight wins in their past 13 games. Freshman Dee Vizcarra was throwing a no-hitter through the first three innings. The only blemish was a lead-off walk to Cole Clark, who would get caught stealing on a called third strike to Sam Wilson.

Vizcarra allowed only two hits, the first coming in the fourth when Jake Hammond hit an infield single with two outs. But on the same play, Wilson would be thrown out at third. The second hit came in the next inning when Robert Patterson hit a line drive to left. Vizcarra would pitch five innings, facing two batters over the minimum.

“Dee has a plus fastball,” Walling said. “He’s come a long way. For a freshman, he’s one of the best guys around. Him and [freshman Evan] Vasquez give us a chance to win every day and we can’t ask anything more from those two guys.”

Sophomore Matthew Pinal came in to pitch the final two innings, but not without some tense moments. With one out in the sixth, he would walk the next three batters, all at the top of the lineup before getting Hammond to ground into a fielder’s choice and striking out Neil O’Reilly. Pinal then pitched a perfect seventh inning.

The Dons had multiple chances to score throughout the game as they had at least a runner on base in every inning. Senior right fielder Alex Hinds was left at third in the first after reaching on an infield single. Two runners were left stranded in the second and one more in the third. In the fifth, Hernandez was walked and after moving on a sacrifice from freshman catcher Jonathan O’Neill, came home on McInerney’s hit.

“I think we’re tired,” Walling said. “I think with Spring Break, getting these next five or six days off…the kids need some rest. Everybody needs a day off; it’s an All-Star break. We’re 25 or 26 games in already. I think it’s a matter of who’s going to be tougher. We have to get tough real fast.

“I think it’s the day in, day out grind where the freshmen and sophomores aren’t used to it,” Walling continued.

After defeating St. Monica High 6-1 on Mar. 2 to begin pool play action, the Dons collected a forfeit victory against Compton High last Saturday and a 1-0 win over Ontario Christian High this past Monday before falling to St. Monica High 1-0 the next day. Cerritos will now visit John Glenn High on Wednesday in the front end of a home and home series with major playoff implications on the line.

Cerritos is 3-3 in the Suburban League and sitting in fifth place, one full game behind the Eagles, who are currently in third. Bellflower High is in between the two at 4-3 with a game against Mayfair High today. Vizcarra, who is now 3-3, is scheduled to pitch on Wednesday with Vasquez (5-3 with six complete games) slated for Friday.

“It really doesn’t matter who we throw,” Walling said. “They’re going to give us a solid outing. It’s going to be a one to two-run game. It’s going to come down to defense and timely hitting. Hopefully we’re out of our slump.”

Also in the St. Paul Easter Tournament, Artesia High gave St. Anthony High all it could handle this past Tuesday, trailing 2-0 entering the bottom of the sixth. But the Saints erupted for six runs in the frame and went on to defeat the Pioneers 8-1. Artesia committed five errors in the game to add to its season total of 63 in 19 games.

“All of the runs today were unearned, so that’s the bottom line,” said Artesia head coach Mike Gaoghagan. “But, we’ve had a lot of that this year where we’re getting two outs and we kind of self-destruct and we can’t find a way to battle back out of that. We weren’t hitting, again, but the pitching part wasn’t too bad.”

The Pioneers, who fell to 3-16 after the loss, had only 10 players suit up but were looking good in the top of the first when junior catcher Allan Castro singled with one out. But with two outs, junior first baseman Oscar Esparza was safe on first and moved to second on a throwing error. On the same play, Castro was thrown out at home.

Artesia’s only other hit came in the seventh when senior shortstop Max Anderson’s base hit to left loaded the bases. Two batters later, a walk to freshman pinch hitter Patrick Garcia plated sophomore second baseman Brian Soto. The two hits against the Saints brings the season total to 85 and the Pioneers have been held to fewer than five hits 11 times.

“Our numbers are down and we’ve lost a couple of key kids that we were counting on this year,” Gaoghagan said. “We have a way to go.”

Artesia jumps back into Suburban League action on Wednesday with a road game at Mayfair High in the front end of a home and home series. After taking the following week off, the Pioneers (1-7 in league) will end the regular season with a home and home series against Bellflower High.

“We’re only losing three guys, so everyone is playing for [a spot for] next year and they’re getting their at-bats,” Gaoghagan said of the final four games. “That’s a positive. But our numbers are down, our attendance is down, our athletic numbers are down, not just for our sport, but for all of the sports.”

Three other teams participated in the tournament. After losing all three pool play games, John Glenn bounced back to defeat Mark Keppel High 10-0 this past Tuesday and Schurr High 6-1 this past Wednesday. The Eagles improved to 13-8 and get set for its pivotal showdown with Cerritos next week.

Norwalk High improved to 9-9 with a pair of 10-run victories. The Lancers shutout Compton High 10-0 this past Tuesday while they slammed Cabrillo High 12-2 the next day. The nine victories are the most since 2013 when the program went 13-12. In fact, Norwalk went 4-1 in the tournament with the lone loss coming to St. Anthony, 14-3, this past Monday.

In that game, the Lancers grabbed a 3-0 lead with all the runs coming in the bottom of the first. Junior Richard Lozano singled home junior shortstop Kevin Ramirez, who began the game with a walk. Later in the inning, junior third baseman Isaiah Villa scored on a balk and junior centerfielder Lalo Sosa came home on an error.

The Lancers will host La Mirada High on Wednesday in the front end of a home and home series and will face Cerritos the following week to wrap up the regular season.

Valley Christian High also won its final two games with victories over Schurr, 2-0 this past Tuesday, and Mark Keppel High, 9-8 in nine innings this past Wednesday. The Crusaders improved to 12-9 overall and look to better their 2-4 Olympic League mark when they visit Whittier Christian High on Wednesday in the first of two games against the Heralds. V.C. is currently in third place in league with Whittier Christian tied for fourth place at 2-6.

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