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OLYMPIC LEAGUE BASEBALL : Maranatha gets to Valley Christian with long ball, two-out rallies in battle for first place

May 12, 2021

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

 

Since Valley Christian High’s baseball team last won the Olympic League in 2012, Maranatha High and Village Christian High have dominated the circuit the past seven seasons entering the 2021 campaign. Maranatha has captured three league crowns, including 2018 and 2019 while losing one league game in the process.

So, when V.C. knocked off the Minutemen 6-2 on May 4, which ended a 12-game losing streak to one of the league’s powerhouse teams, thoughts were running through the minds of the Defenders of collecting their first season-series win over Maranatha for the first time since 2015. But Maranatha scored all its runs with two outs and Daniel Ruiz pitched a gem, allowing just two hits in a complete game, 5-1 victory last Thursday afternoon that sent V.C.’s record to 11-5 overall and 3-2 in league. Maranatha, which had previously posted a 5-1 win over the Defenders on Apr. 13, improved to 11-2, 6-1.

“I think we were confident,” said V.C. assistant coach Gene Bras. “The thing about the game on Tuesday night wasn’t like they made bad plays. We just made plays and got some clutch hits. It wasn’t like some fluky thing happened. We just played a really solid baseball game and got a win.”

Ruiz faced the minimum through the first three innings, allowing a first inning single to senior shortstop Austin Horio, who would get picked off trying to steal before the next pitch could be thrown to senior catcher Matt Bean. In the bottom of the fourth inning, Ruiz walked junior third baseman Ben Carter and Horio around a pop-up. Both runners advanced on a wild pitch but when Bean hit a high chopper back to Ruiz, Carter was caught in a rundown and tagged by catcher Camden Andrews to end the scoring chance.

Ruiz would then retire the next five batters he faced and 10 of the last 11 of the game. His only blemish was a one-out home run by Carter in the sixth inning. Ruiz needed 18 pitches to get through the first three innings and 80 for the game. He struck out five, walked two and allowed five V.C. runners to reach base.

“I think he’s one of those guys you watch him, and you think…we probably needed to be a little more patient,” Bras said. “A guy like that is going to try to expand the zone and try to get guys to swing at his pitch a little bit and get some easy outs that way. That’s what happened in those first few innings.”

Ryan Mittelman smacked a two-out home run in the top of the first which was followed by a walk issued to Mikey Ebner. He would then steal second base and come home on a double from Dylan Zdunek. In the fourth, Nick Cook singled with two outs to plate Will Allen and in the next inning, with two outs, Zdunek singled before Garret McGuigan hit a wind-driven home run over the centerfield fence.

“That’s kind of baseball, right,” Bras said. “Clutch hitting, closing innings with two outs; so, you have to do those things and that’s the difference. I think the thing about today too is it’s our ballpark and you play small today. On most days, the wind is blowing in from left field.”

The Defenders entered the contest ranked 10th in the CIF-Southern Section Division 6 polls and despite the loss to the Minutemen, moved up two spots when the latest polls were released this past Monday. V.C. would rebound by knocking off Village Christian 9-4 this past Tuesday and will host the Crusaders today in a doubleheader with the first game beginning at 3:00.  Those two teams began the week tied for second place with 3-2 marks, but Village Christian had a 5-8 overall record. The Defenders will then travel to Heritage Christian High on Tuesday.

“I think we knew we were capable of this,” Brass said of the team’s record. “Over the last several weeks, our fielding has been superb. Our pitching has been really good; it’s kept us in games. I think today, we left our hitting shoes at home a little bit.

“Our pitching and defense have been really solid,” he continued. “Our hitting has been the one that’s been a little bit inconsistent. When we’re hitting the ball well, we’re pretty tough to beat.”

 

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