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SUBURBAN LEAGUE BASEBALL – Norwalk falls to Bellflower in regular season finale, looks forward to upcoming playoffs

 

 

Norwalk High sophomore first baseman Joseph Davis tries to get the tag down on Bellflower High’s Ryan Lopez, who just got back to the base in last Thursday’s regular season finale. Norwalk fell to the Buccaneers 7-4 but still advances to the CIF-Southern Section playoffs for the first time since 2013. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer.

 

By Loren Kopff• @LorenKopff on Twitter

May 4, 2022~Norwalk High’s baseball team had already checked off one box entering its home and home series with Bellflower High on the final week of the regular season, which was clinching the program’s first trip to the CIF-Southern Section playoffs since 2013. Another box was checked off on Apr. 26 when the Lancers knocked off the Buccaneers 7-3 in nine innings, assuring the team no worse than a third place finish outright.

The pressure was lessened for Norwalk head coach William Wenrick when the teams met again last Thursday with second place on the line. But Bellflower stormed out to a 4-0 lead just 11 pitches into the game, saw that lead disappear before scoring the last three runs in a 7-4 victory. Norwalk, which had been ranked fourth in Division 6, concluded the regular season at 14-12 overall, 4-4 in the Suburban League. The final polls came out this past Monday and the Lancers fell out of the top 10 while previously unranked Bellflower moved up to ninth.
On the second pitch of the game, Gil Sanchez beat out an infield single, and three pitches later, advanced on a base hit from Branin Seibert. Both would score on a triple from David Martinez on the seventh pitch thrown by junior Kaleb Nakano and on the very next pitch, a double from Ryan Lopez made it 3-0. Following a pop-up to senior catcher Angel Rosales, Lopez came home on a double from Neo Rodriguez. Nakano would face seven batters in the inning but threw 15 pitches.

“We knew they were going to come out firing after the last game,” said Wenrick. “They knew they didn’t play their best game, so we were expecting them to come out on fire. Kaleb was throwing the pitches down; they were just hitting the ball. I don’t know if it was the crowd noise or the intensity or them jumping on us so quick…we got a couple of punches to the face.”

After going down in order in the bottom of the first inning, the Lancers answered back with a pair of runs in the second and third innings. Rosales was hit by a pitch to lead off the second, advanced to second on a ground out from junior third baseman Jonathan Guzman, went to third on a single from junior second baseman Kevin Carrillo and scored on a single down the left field line from sophomore first baseman Joseph Davis. A sacrifice from junior right fielder Michael Castaneda plated Carrillo to cut the deficit in half.

With one out in the next inning, junior center fielder Randy Martinez singled to left. Then with Nakano facing a 2-2 count, Martinez was off and running seconds before Nakano laced a base hit to the right field gap to put runners at the corners. Bellflower pitcher Larry Salgado then hit Rosales to load the bases before Guzman’s single down the right field line tied the game.

“In the second and third innings, we finally woke up,” said Wenrick. “We just started playing our game. I know we had a safety squeeze that scored a run. We have the philosophy that if we hit to the right side and lay down a bunt when we need to, we’re going to be tough; we’re going to be in games.”

The Bucs would regain the lead in the fourth and added solo tallies in the last two innings, but Norwalk had several chances to at least tie the contest. With two outs in the bottom of the fourth, junior shortstop Caden Barnhill beat out an infield knock but was stranded there as all three outs in the frame went to right fielder Chris Guillen. In the fifth and again with two outs, Guzman singled but would not advance. The Lancers would also strand runners at first in the next two innings.

Guzman and Nakano each had a pair of hits while four others had one hit apiece as the Lancers ended a streak of eight straight losing seasons. Norwalk visited Whittier Christian High, the second place representative out of the Olympic League, on May 5 in the first round and will be seeking to get out of the first round for the first time since 1999 when that team went to the quarterfinals. This season marks the program’s seventh trip to the playoffs since that quarterfinal visit and this season’s team posted the most wins in a season since 2011 when that squad went 15-12. The 2013 playoff team finished 13-12.

“That’s about where I expected us to be,” said Wenrick. “I would rather have been 15-11, but our goals this year was .500 and make the playoffs. And if our goals were really lofty, we were going to win league. But realistically, [assistant] coach [David] Gallegos and I came in thinking if we can play .500 overall and play .500 in our league, we’ll be in.”

When Wenrick took over the program in 2015, the program had gone through three head coaches in the previous three seasons. Originally, he was going to coach the varsity team for three years, which then turned to five years and now, eight seasons in, he’s taking the team to the playoffs.

“I’ve always coached at Norwalk at the lower levels,” said Wenrick. “When I finally got hired full time as a teacher, I wanted to get out of [coaching]. I was already out of it for a year and a half or so because I was getting my credential. When I heard of the troubles that the varsity team was having with their coach and the kids…I was like, ‘if you ask me to coach, I’ll coach’. But I really wanted to get my teaching career going.”

Winning nine of its first 12 games of the season allowed the other coaches in the division to take notice and when the first top 10 polls came out on Mar. 7, the Lancers were ranked fourth and remained in that position all season except when they moved up to third on Mar. 14 and again on Apr. 11.

“We really haven’t talked about that too much,” said Wenrick. “I don’t expect that to happen with that loss, but you never know. I haven’t really discussed that with the team too much. I just came in expecting that if we lost this game, we were going to play on Tuesday and if we won this game, we were possibly not going to play until Thursday.”

A win over the Heralds would pit the Lancers against either Trinity Classical Academy, ranked fifth, or Rio Hondo Prep in the second round on Tuesday.

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