_____________________________ ST. NORBERT CHURCH           RATES ________________________


NEWPORT ELKS TOURNAMENT: Garcia, Trader help Valley Christian edge La Quinta to stay perfect in tournament

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

Usually in baseball, the defense is supposed to bail out a pitcher. But with Valley Christian High’s defense making five errors this past Tuesday against La Quinta High, senior Jarod Trader decided to take matters in his own hands.

In his first start of the season, Trader pitched into the sixth inning, yielded one hit and threw 66 pitches as the Crusaders held off the Aztecs 2-1 in the final game of one of the seven pools of the Orange County Division in the 34th Annual Newport Elks Varsity Baseball Tournament. Trader, who also picked up the win in relief against Oxford Academy last Saturday morning, has two of the four wins for the Crusaders through the first five games.

“The whole mindset for Jarod today was to be more aggressive on our offense,” said V.C. head coach Michael Dunk. “Jarod has been, maybe three or four innings so far this year, throwing pretty well; nothing overpowering but just enough to get guys to reach out on good pitches. Jarod had been solid. He’s captain of the team, a senior and he’s been waiting three years to pitch. This is his chance this year to pitch and he hasn’t let me down.”

The Crusaders got on the board in the bottom of the first inning when junior designated hitter R.J. VanKampen reached on a fielder’s choice with two outs. On the next pitch from Michael Nadeau, sophomore left fielder Brett Garcia doubled to the left field gap to bring in VanKampen.

In the third, senior center fielder Jesse Smith was hit to lead off the frame. He was moved to second on a sacrifice from junior second baseman Brent Van Meeteren and went to third on a wild pitch. Following a walk to Trader, Smith came home on a sacrifice fly from VanKampen.

V.C. was looking to add more when Garcia singled to put runners at the corners. But he would be caught stealing to end that threat. Garcia would also single in the sixth with two outs and collected three of V.C.’s four hits.

“Brett’s a pretty good hitting pitcher,” Dunk said. “Just having a good practice yesterday leading up to today; talking about his hitting approach and for him to work on that and executing today really helped us in the game. We’re just hoping that carries over.”

Despite Trader getting the job done on the mound, the Aztecs were threatening in six of the seven innings as the Crusader’s defense was playing its worst game of the season. V.C. had a first inning error with two outs, a leadoff error in the third, a one-out error in the fifth and two more miscues with one out in the sixth. La Quinta, though, would strand four runners in scoring position.

“It’s always unpleasing when you see five errors occur, especially when all five errors were inside the grass lines,” Dunk said. “All five errors were pretty much routine plays. It hurts to see that, especially when we committed [six] errors in the first four games. But I’m just proud, especially with J-Rod and the inexperience with him pitching, to bounce back and still having the confidence and faith in his defense to make you execute a pitch to get a groundout.”

After the last error, Garcia came in to record the final five outs of the game. He allowed just a two-out single to Nathan Medellin in the seventh and struck out a pair while getting three groundouts. V.C. hosted Sage Hill High, another pool play winner from the Orange County Division, on Mar. 10, and will conclude the tournament either today or Saturday, weather permitting. V.C. outscored its three pool play opponents by a combined score of 17-9. The Crusaders will then host longtime rival Ontario Christian High on Tuesday and a doubleheader against Jordan High on Thursday.

“We’ve still haven’t seen who we really are,” Dunk said. “I know this is a well-hitting team. We’re just not hitting well enough right now. Again, it’s back to the drawing board with practices and having the confidence in their stuff.”