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SUBURBAN LEAGUE BASEBALL: Cerritos rallies late to clinch league’s final playoff berth, denies Norwalk of same opportunity

 

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter

 

Since 2015, the Cerritos High baseball program has had a knack for making things interesting the final few weeks of the regular season. And that trend continued this season as the Dons needed to come away with at least split against Norwalk High to continue their season.

The scenario was very simple as the teams met at Norwalk last Thursday in the regular season finale-a Cerritos win gives the Dons fourth place in the Suburban League and a berth to the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section playoffs while a Norwalk win of more than a run gives the Lancers their first postseason berth since 2013 and eliminates the Dons.

For most of the game, it looked as if the Lancers would end their postseason drought. But Cerritos scored five runs in the top of the seventh inning and rallied for a 7-3 victory.

This season Cerritos head coach Scott Parsonage feels a load has been lifted off his shoulders, especially since the Dons (18-10 overall, 6-6 in league) won two of their final six games and four of their final 10 games.

“Especially missing out last year by a game, us coaches said we’re making the playoffs,” Parsonage said. “That’s our ultimate goal at the start of the season. It doesn’t matter how you make it in this league; you just have to be in the top four. We tried to make it hard on ourselves and we did make it hard on ourselves. I don’t think we could have waited any longer. At least we came out with [the win].”

In 2015, the Dons had a 16-11 mark but missed the playoffs by a game and a half. The next season, Cerritos won three of its final four league games and finished with a 7-5 league mark to clinch fourth place in the circuit.  Last season, despite an 18-13 record, the Dons were swept by La Mirada High the final week of the season while John Glenn High split with Mayfair High and Bellflower High swept Artesia High to push Cerritos to fifth place.

The Dons were trailing 3-2 heading into the top of the seventh when sophomore designated hitter Jacob Guzman singled and moved to second on a sacrifice from junior shortstop Matthew Pinal. Sophomore right fielder Xavier Medina then singled to the left field gap and Cerritos had runners on the corners on four pitches. Guzman was replaced by sophomore pinch runner Brandon Reyes, who tied the game when sophomore pitcher Evan Vazquez was safe on an error.

Two pitches later, sophomore center fielder Raul Garcia came up with the biggest hit of the season when he doubled to the right field gap to bring in a pair of runs.

“Honestly, I was just trying to get the first pitch, fastball and just get early on the guy,” Garcia said.

But Cerritos didn’t stop there as freshman third baseman Nick Hill was walked on four pitches, junior left fielder Matthew Aguinaga singled and junior first baseman Bernie DeLeon was walked to load the bases. Sophomore second baseman Alex Manibusan then reached on an infield single to bring home Hill.

“Hitting is contagious and usually in a high school rally, a walk or an error, and then a hit and then, oh, everything happens…hit, hit, hit,” Parsonage said. “That’s usually how it happens.”

“Well, we reverted to like we’ve been playing the last two years,” said Norwalk head coach Bill Wenrick. “An easy ground ball to third, not making the play, not communicating on the field with bunts. I felt the first time they bunted, we had the guy at second and we didn’t communicate that. It just came back and got us in the top of the seventh inning.”

In the early parts of the game, Norwalk (10-13, 4-8) had all the momentum. Already down 1-0 the Lancers tied the game in the bottom of the first when senior designated hitter Mark Gil’s double to the left field gap plated senior shortstop Kevin Ramirez. One inning later, senior center fielder Gonzalo Sosa singled down the third base line, senior pitcher Anthony Gonzalez singled to right and junior catcher Andrew Arriola was safe on an error to load the bases.

A fielder’s choice from senior left fielder David Urzua, which should have been a double play, allowed Sosa to break the tie. Then Ramirez grounded into a double play which brought in Gonzalez. However, the play of the game that turned the tide in Cerritos’ favor came when senior second baseman Adrian Perez hit a deep fly ball to center that at first looked as if it would drop for at least a double. But Garcia dove to his right and snagged the ball for the final out and kept it a 3-1 Norwalk lead. The hosts would collect one more hit the rest of the game.

“I was trying not let the guy score,” Garcia said. “That’s it; just keep the game tight. That’s pretty much it. The wind was blowing [towards] left field, so I knew it was going to carry that way. But, I just got a good read on it.”

“That’s the story of our season, story of our season right there,” Wenrick said. “Just not getting the hits when we need to get them.”

Meanwhile, the pitching was once again stellar for Cerritos, which ended the season with two more complete games. After seeing Pinal three-hit the Lancers on May 8 for his fifth complete game of the season, Vazquez yielded five hits and went the distance for the sixth time. Vazquez struck out half a dozen, walked one and retired the final 10 batters he faced on a total of 31 pitches. Vazquez had entered the game winless in four previous league starts while getting six runs of support in those games.

“He finally started to throw that ball after the third inning,” Parsonage said. “The last three outings, he’s lost a little on his ball, rushing a little bit. His curveball wasn’t as sharp. But in the fourth inning, I think he finally got pissed off and said, ‘hey, I have to get this done’. He picked up two to three miles per hour on his fastball and you could see the fire in his eyes again.”

“He’s one of our best players,” Garcia said. “I grew up with him; I know I have a lot of confidence in him and I know he’ll get the job done at the end of the day.”

Gonzalez wasn’t too bad for the Lancers, working into the seventh inning and striking out four while allowing three earned runs. He was gunning for his second complete game of the season.

“He struggled in the first and missed a couple of spots, then he got into his groove and started hitting his spots, getting the groundballs and getting the pop-ups, a strikeout here and there,” Wenrick said.

“Our pitching was just light’s out this year,” he later added. “Mark Gil and Salazar and Anthony Gonzalez and Adrian just kept us in every game. They came and they battled all the time. We would lose either by an error or some sort of mental mistake. And it’s a shame for them because Anthony’s going to have some pretty good stats except for wins and losses.”

Garcia went four for four, drove in three runs and scored twice while Medina went two for four and scored twice. Six other Cerritos players collected a hit a piece as the 13 hits were the most since a Mar. 9 victory over Schurr High.

“What a great kid, man,” Parsonage said. “He’s quiet with his words but he really wants it. He’s got passion for the game. He’s still learning as a sophomore. But that’s the best game he’s had all year.”

“It was a pretty good overall team victory,” Garcia said. “For the first six innings, we didn’t really have the energy. Then in the last inning, we picked it up.”

Because Norwalk fell to the Dons 1-0 earlier in the week, it needed to win the rematch by at least two runs in order to win the tiebreaker. The Lancers, who fielded 12 seniors on a team of 14 players, won 10 games for the first time since 2013 and the Lancers won more league contests since that same season. In the past four seasons, Norwalk won a combined six games. “They showed more confidence,” Wenrick said. “In the past, we would just kind of wait and see how the game would play out, and then wait for the wheel to fall off. That’s kind of what happened on Tuesday. Here, we came out swinging; got guys on base. I felt a good vibe. Then when the seventh inning came, the sails came out.”

Cerritos, in the playoffs for just the third time since 1998, began the Division 4 playoffs this past Tuesday and easily defeated Hillcrest High 11-3. The Dons visited Oak Hills High on May 17.

“It feels good to be back after a year hiatus,” Parsonage said. “These guys worked hard and they were fading, but we got there. It’s going to be a great experience for these guys. It’s the first time for them and they’re sophomores. I think next year, moving into that new league, I think we’re going to be a first place or second place team pretty much. I’m pretty positive about that. We’ll make the playoffs and this will prepare us for a deep run next year.”

 

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