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ST. PAUL EASTER TOURNAMENT: Gil, Salazar aided by early scoring as Norwalk edges Valley Christian

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter


Because of the recent rains, the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section member schools have had to cancel, postpone and/or scramble to reschedule baseball games affected by the weather. Norwalk High and Valley Christian High were no strangers to the schedule adjustment when they met in a St. Paul Easter Tournament game this past Monday.

Norwalk hadn’t played since Mar. 12 while the visiting Crusaders had their road game at Whittier Christian High washed out last Friday. So, when V.C. got out to quick first-inning lead, it looked as if the Lancers would be in for a long day. But senior pitcher Mark Gil settled down and the hosts scored twice in the bottom of the second inning and one more in the fifth to come away with a 3-1 win.

“I thought we came out a little flat for pregame,” said Norwalk head coach Bill Wenrick. “I thought once the game got going, they refocused and they played a good ballgame.”

Norwalk senior center fielder Lalo Sosa led off the second with a double, went to third on a groundout from senior second baseman Adrian Perez and came home on a wild pitch. V.C. junior pitcher Ryan Bloom then walked senior right fielder Richard Lozano, moved to second on a groundout from senior first baseman Alex Varela and to third on a wild pitch before scoring on a base hit to center from junior catcher Andrew Arriola.

That would be all the help that Gil needed as he worked four innings, scattering four hits and striking out three in his second start of the season. Senior Juan Salazar came in to work the final three frames, yielding two hits and striking out four for his first save and the team’s second.

“His performance was great,” Wenrick said of Gil. “He was always around the plate. He’s learned a couple of new pitches this year. I didn’t want to try to push him into the fifth inning and bring Juan in in the middle of an inning. I wanted Juan to start an inning.”

“We couldn’t get the timely out,” said V.C. head coach Roger Penticoff. “We just didn’t clutch up. That’s basically what it is. Now, Ryan threw a great ballgame; it’s his first complete game all year. He looked really good.

“It’s like I told the guys, we have to start helping our pitching out,” he continued. “This is like the third time where we’ve given up just a few runs and we got beat.”

Five pitches into the game, junior catcher James Stirton reached on an infield single, advanced twice on wild pitches and came home on senior shortstop Brett Garcia’s single to left. After that, the Crusaders (5-4) had numerous chances to score. But they stranded half a dozen runners and had one runner get past second after the first inning. Meanwhile, the Lancers added an insurance run in the fifth when senior shortstop Kevin Ramirez singled to right and scored an unearned run with two outs. Four different players would account for the four hits Norwalk collected while Stirton and junior third baseman Pete Tagle each went two for three.

“In the past, these would be the games that we would lose,” Wenrick said. “The teams would put pressure on us and we would make the mistake. I felt today that we put the ball in play more than we usually do. We instead made them have to play our game and it helped us out with a wild pitch that we got a run on and an error at first base. That was the difference in the game, and in the past, we were the team making those mistakes.”

Norwalk, which opened its Suburban League portion of the schedule with a nine-inning, 4-1 win at Mayfair High the next day, hosted the Monsoons on Mar. 29 and will face Ontario Christian High on Saturday in the tournament. Then on Monday, the Lancers (5-3) will host St. Bernard High to wrap up pool play action before playing on Tuesday and Wednesday to conclude tournament play.

“The kids did play with more confidence today when they went to the plate,” Wenrick said. “After a strikeout, instead of coming back [to the dugout] dejected, they were analyzing [it]. They knew what the mistake was. They knew what pitches were being thrown to them. In the past, we were thinking baseball-wise like that.”

V.C. (5-5) would fall to Maranatha High 14-5 this past Tuesday to drop to 0-2 in Olympic League play. The Crusaders visited Heritage Christian High on Mar. 29 and will wrap up pool play action of the tournament at Garfield High on Saturday and home against St. Monica High on Monday. Playing four games in five days this week was not what Penticoff wanted considering the Crusaders only field 14 players.

“It affects us quite a bit,” Penticoff said. “We are a small squad, so we don’t have a lot of pitching. So, what’s going to happen is guys that don’t normally [pitch a lot]…we’re going to rely on multiple innings out of them.”