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Artesia’s Montano stifles struggling Norwalk on two-hitter


By Loren Kopff

As the midway point of the Suburban League schedule for Artesia and Norwalk had come and gone, the window for either squad reaching the postseason was closing very quickly. Both entered this past Tuesday’s meeting sitting at the bottom of the league with a combined 1-11 mark and each with three wins overall.
In the past, these two programs would duke it out at the end of the season for fourth place and the final automatic playoff spot from the league, but not this season. The Pioneers, thanks to the pitching of senior Osbiel Montano, distanced themselves from the Lancers and picked up a 7-2 victory. Montano became the first Artesia pitcher to go the distance this season, giving up just two hits and striking out three.
“We still have a long way to go,” said Artesia head coach Michael Gaoghagan. “We have to win five in a row. So it’s a step, it’s a baby step. We played well; we didn’t shoot ourselves in the foot. That was our problem when we played Glenn.”
Norwalk (3-10, 0-7) struck first in the top of the third inning when Montano walked senior designated hitter Albert Rodriguez, who went to second on an error. Junior center fielder Gabe Anaya then singled and both runners advanced on a wild pitch. Anaya would score the second run on a ground out from junior shortstop Pete Hernandez.
That would be the only time Montano got into real trouble. Even when he hit junior left fielder Bryan Villalobos to lead off the fifth, then plunked Hernandez with two outs, he picked off Hernandez trying to steal second.
“He did a good job,” Gaoghagan said. “He was hitting his spots early on then he had trouble with his fastball. His breaking ball was pretty good for the first four then he was dropping his arm a little bit. But he battled through it.”
Meanwhile, Montano got all of the help he needed in the bottom of the third. The Pioneers (4-12, 2-5), who had never scored more than five runs in any of its previous 15 games this season, pushed across six runs, sending 12 batters to the plate. It all started with junior right fielder Justin Martinez and junior shortstop Matt Munoz taking advantage of Norwalk’s defense by putting down bunts up the third base line for infield hits.
Both would eventually score on separate errors but the big blow came when senior left fielder Ivan Rosales doubled to the right field gap with the bases loaded to bring in a pair of runs.
“[Senior pitcher] Trino [Romero] kind of lost it in the third inning,” said Norwalk first-year head coach Ruben Marquez. “He wasn’t hitting his spots. But I can’t put all of the blame on Trino. We didn’t cover the bunt; the easy routine things and we just fell apart. It’s the same thing over and over again.”
Romero lasted only three innings before Villalobos replaced him. The Pioneers added its final run in the fourth when junior second baseman Marcus Johnson singled with two outs and came home on a double from Rosales. Martinez and Rosales each had two hits as Artesia posted a season-high nine hits.
“I think they don’t believe in themselves,” Marquez said of his team. “They don’t have the confidence because of the different coaching that they had before. We beat the bunts down to the ground every single day at practice. Yet again, and I just told them, we play as individuals, not as a team. That’s something I have to work through.”
Norwalk, which has now lost seven straight games, was held hitless over the final four innings. The Lancers hosted Artesia on Apr. 17 and will face Narbonne on Saturday in the first round of the St. Paul Easter Baseball Tournament. Norwalk will also have tournament games on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Its next league game is on Apr. 30 at La Mirada,
“We have to catch a break somewhere,” Marquez said. “We don’t have a young team. It’s all seniors except for five. So, I will be calling up some junior [varsity] kids. But [they] have to keep their heads up and play as a team. I hope they get it.”
The Pioneers are also in the same tournament and will play Cantwell Sacred Heart of Mary on Saturday, Bishop Montgomery on Monday and Southlands Christian on Tuesday with one more on Wednesday. Artesia will then visit Mayfair on Apr. 30.
“They’ve been positive, they’ve been upbeat, they’ve been working,” Gaoghagan said. “I can’t really complain about that. They know that if they have any chance at all, they have to win five in a row. They know it’s a tough road. We have Norwalk for one more and we’ve had battles with them over the last few years. We have Bellflower, who is always tough and we have Mayfair.”