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NEWPORT ELKS VARSITY BASEBALL TOURNAMENT : Artesia’s defense doesn’t come through in worst loss of season

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

Through the first two weeks of the season, it appears that the Artesia High baseball team has made some improvements from previous seasons. Part of it is the personnel and part of it is getting into a new tournament instead of opening every season in a much tougher tournament.

In four of the first five games, the Pioneers have been involved in games decided by one or two runs. But Artesia ran into a buzz saw against Rancho Alamitos High this past Monday in a make-up game from the Orange County Division of the 34th Annual Newport Elks Varsity Baseball Tournament and was blanked 6-0. The Pioneers committed half a dozen errors and two of the six runs were unearned.

“It’s been like that for us all year,” said Artesia assistant coach Jose Serrano. “In the game of baseball, it’s whoever makes more errors is going to lose more games. So far, in the two games that we lost by one and in this one, we averaged four or five errors. That’s something we have to eliminate.”

On the first pitch of the game, Jesse Candelario doubled down the left field line. But junior pitcher David Licea recovered and got the next three batters out on a combined eight pitches. That set the stage for the offense to make some noise early. Junior second baseman Eric Marquez reached on an infield single and moved to second on an infield knock from sophomore center fielder David Vasquez. However, after a fielder’s choice and a passed ball, the Pioneers were unable to get a run across.

That would prove costly in more than one way. First, the Vaqueros squandered their chance to score in the top of the second inning when Nathan Alarcon grounded into an inning-ending double play and in the process, stranding a runner in scoring position. But in the next inning, Rancho Alamitos got on the board when Alfredo Llort singled in Candelario.

“It’s always going to be frustrating if we don’t jump on them, especially coming after a base hit and [another] base hit and not getting a sacrifice down,” Serrano said. “Baseball is a game of inches and if you can’t bunt the ball, you’re going to be in trouble.”

While Artesia’s offense was being held in check with only three base runners over the last four innings, the defense wasn’t getting better. Two errors in the fourth led to one of the two runs the Vaqueros scored being unearned. Rancho Alamitos then added two more runs in the fifth and an unearned run in the final inning. Licea, who entered the game with a pair of wins, worked into the fifth inning and gave up seven hits while striking out two.

“He was going through the motion; just relaxing too much,” Serrano said. “Coming back from the weekend and playing on a Monday, players are way too relaxed, not realizing that you have to play with the extra energy.”

Artesia, which has one more make-up game against Garden Grove High on Apr. 25 to complete the tournament, would blast Cabrillo High 11-0 this past Tuesday to improve to 4-3. The team will host St. Anthony High on Saturday before opening up Suburban League action at Cerritos High on Tuesday with the rematch at home on Thursday.

“It’s been a new thing for us, being 3-3,” Serrano said. “This year we kind of downgraded to play some teams to get their confidence up. I think this is a good tournament for us. Starting 3-1, now 3-3…we have to turn it around. We have to find something or somewhere to turn it around.”

Elsewhere in the tournament, Cerritos was able to complete its five games which ended with a 4-1 loss to La Quinta High last Saturday. The Dons, who also knocked off Costa Mesa High 8-5 on Mar. 9 and Nogales High 6-4 on Mar. 10, began action this past Monday in the St. Paul Tournament and defeated St. Genevieve High 6-2 before falling to Temple City High 19-14 this past Tuesday in a non tournament contest. The Dons (4-5) squandered an 11-0 first inning lead.

After losing the first game of pool play action, Gahr High ended the tournament with four straight wins. The Gladiators beat Santiago High 5-2 last Thursday and Foothill High 6-2 last Saturday. In the first game of the Redondo Tournament, Gahr beat Corona High 9-2 this past Tuesday to improve to 5-1 on the season. Gahr will play South Torrance High today and Agoura High on Wednesday.

John Glenn High slammed Santiago High 10-1 last Thursday in the fourth game of the tournament and will have to wait until Apr. 12 to conclude the tournament against Los Amigos High. The Eagles (4-3) then fell to Santa Fe High 3-1 this past Tuesday and faced St. Bernard High on Mar. 17 in the first game of the St. Paul Tournament. Glenn will host La Serna High today and Bellflower High on Tuesday in the Suburban League opener. Those two teams will meet at Bellflower on Thursday.

After being no-hit by Sage Hill High on Mar. 9, Valley Christian High had its game with Santa Ana High washed out last Friday. It will be made up on Apr. 11. The Crusaders (5-2) defeated Ontario Christian High 5-1 this past Tuesday and hosted Long Beach Jordan High on Mar. 17. The Crusaders will then open the St Paul Tournament on Saturday against Mary Star of the Sea High before travelling to Village Christian High on Thursday in the Olympic League opener.