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OLYMPIC LEAGUE BASEBALL- Wilkinson’s pitching plus top of the lineup help bring back mental toughness to Valley Christian

March 22, 2021

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

For the past two and a half weeks or so, Valley Christian High baseball coach Matt Dahlenburg talked to his team about being mentally tough. Since the first day of the month, the Defenders had lost four of six games and entered last Friday’s home game with Heritage Christian on a two-game losing streak.

But against a team fielding seven freshmen, seven sophomores and two seniors, V.C. took advantage of the youth and shutout the Warriors 10-0 in a game that ended with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning. It was the first Olympic League win for V.C. in three tries and the second shutout of the season for the Defenders.

“We kind of kick ourselves in the foot when we get down,” said Dahlenburg. “So, that’s just been the talk. It just finally kicked in today and we played like we should be playing all year, which was amazing. That’s how we should be playing Valley Christian baseball.”

The fact that the Defenders haven’t been playing with as much mental toughness as they did last season is the confusing part. V.C. went 18-8 last season and won 10 of 12 league contests. Entering last Friday’s game, the Defenders already had seven setbacks. On top of that, V.C. has 10 seniors on a team of 18 players.

“It takes another level because in the four years I’ve been here, that’s the main thing we talk about, is being mentally tough,” said Dahlenburg. “Last year we were mentally tough and if we made a mistake, we just got over it. Having a senior loaded team and not being able to come back from it is the worst part.”

With one out and on the fourth pitch of the game, senior third baseman Carson Slager hit a home run over the right center fence. But in the next inning, the Defenders began to take advantage of Heritage Christian’s youth. Sophomore catcher Joseph DeYoung, a recent callup to the varsity squad, singled to left. Senior right fielder Colin Abrahams then reached on an error and senior shortstop Ben Carter laid down a beautiful bunt up the third base line to load the bases. After a pop-up and a strikeout, senior center fielder Ryan Zamarripa singled to left field to plate a pair of runs. But when the ball got past the left fielder, Carter came around to make it 4-0. Slager then brought home Zamarripa for the final tally of the inning.

After a perfect third and fourth innings by Heritage Christian’s Kyle Zahn, the Defenders put another four-spot on the board. Junior first baseman Jeremy Gallagher singled, followed by a two-run shot from Zamarripa. Following a strikeout, junior second baseman Nolan Lynott reached on an infield single and senior left fielder Armand Rizo was safe on an error with Lynott coming home. DeYoung then came up with a base hit to left to make it a 9-0 affair.

The final run came when Zamarripa doubled down the left field line with two outs in the sixth inning, plating Carter who began the frame by reaching on a walk. But it wasn’t all about the offense. Senior pitcher Austin Wilkinson was nearly unstoppable in a complete game performance. After loading the bases in the top of the first inning on two walks and a hit, he allowed six runners to reach base over the next five innings. Wilkinson struck out John Ordonez to end the first inning, then stranded Zahn at third in the next inning when he got Luke Backes to pop-up to Slager. Wilkinson struck out seven, scattered five hits and walked three.

“When Austin is battling, Austin is really good, as you saw today,” said Dahlenburg. “We need him to throw like that every time out.”

V.C. would double up St. Anthony High 8-4 last Saturday to even its mark at 7-7 as the team began its weekly home and home series with Village Christian High this past Tuesday at home with the third and final meeting with the Crusaders today on the road. The Defenders lost to Village Christian 5-1 on Mar. 4 in the league opener, but in that contest, the score was tied 1-1 through five innings. The defenders will also host Bishop Montgomery High on Tuesday for their only action until Apr. 4.