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ST. PAUL EASTER TOURNAMENT: Norwalk squanders opportunities in championship game of AA Division

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter


DOWNEY-The Norwalk High baseball team was trying to match the same 4-1 mark it had in the St. Paul Tournament last season and a win over Covina High would have done that. But the Lancers were unable to overcome baserunning mistakes and couldn’t get the timely hit with runners in scoring position in a 2-0 loss to the Colts this past Wednesday night in the championship game of the AA Division of the St. Paul Easter Tournament at Downey High.

“We made a couple of baserunning errors in one inning at third base; we had two runners thrown out at third, which turned out to be huge,” said Norwalk head coach Bill Wenrick. “We struck out 11 times total today, and three of those times were in big opportunities when we had people on base. The games that we won in this tournament we were getting those hits and the two games that we lost we struck out 11 times and we struck out 15 times.

“But I’m proud of our defense,” he continued. “In the old days, our defense used to kill us; giving up the big inning. We’re not giving up the big inning now and we’re staying in ball games.”

On the third pitch of the game, senior left fielder David Urzua singled and senior shortstop Kevin Ramirez was hit by a pitch. Both runners would advance on a sacrifice from senior second baseman Adrian Perez. But a strikeout and a groundout would end the first of several scoring chances.

It would come back to haunt the Lancers because in the bottom of the first Covina scored its two runs in fast fashion. On the first pitch thrown by senior Juan Salazar, Izayah Brisker singled to center and four pitches later, Santiago Castro to right. On the next pitch, Salazar hit Nin Burns to load the bases. That was followed by a single from Ivan Sifuentes on the next pitch, then a sacrifice fly from Manuel Robles, which plated Castro.

After that, Salazar handles the Colts for the rest of the game in his first complete game of the season. Salazar gave up two hits after the first inning and allowed four other base runners. Covina went hitless in nine at-bats with runners in scoring position after the first inning.

“After that first inning, Juan kind of settled in,” Wenrick said. “If you want to say settling in, that’s settled in for Juan, keeping guys off-balanced at the plate where they can’t dig in. But he stayed away from the walks and kept himself in the game.”

Meanwhile, the Lancers kept putting pressure on the Colts. However, two runners were thrown out at third base in the top of the second, including one to end the inning following a base hit from senior right fielder Michael Serna. Two innings later, senior third baseman Isaiah Villa was hit by a Brian Scheaffer pitch to lead off the frame. One out later, senior designated hitter Isaac Aguilar singled to center and both runners moved up on a wild pitch. But a pop-up and a strikeout ended that opportunity. In the fifth inning, Urzua would get caught in a rundown after reaching on an error and the Lancers stranded runners on the corners. Norwalk went one for eight with runners in scoring position.

“I’m really, really proud of our guys,” Wenrick said. “This is my fourth year, so I’ve had them since they were freshmen. I wouldn’t say it’s a big turnaround as far as what people are seeing with our wins and losses and how we’re playing games. But as far as a coach, I can see that we are a much better team than we’ve been in the past. We’re just playing with confidence and it shows.”

The Lancers, who were hoping to match last season’s win total of nine, had won their pool of the tournament, defeating Valley Christian High 3-1, losing to Ontario Christian 9-0 and edging St. Bernard High 8-7. Then Norwalk doubled up Culver City 6-3 this past Tuesday in one semifinal game. Wenrick said the difference between last season’s 9-13 team and this season’s 8-5 squad is that Norwalk played more games in the summer and in the winter. He also said that the team is playing with more confidence, which is the biggest thing and that they have better body language when things don’t go their way.

The Lancers will now get ready for the what could be the best home and home series with their city rivals, John Glenn High, in recent memory. Norwalk will travel to Rio Hondo College, Glenn’s temporary home this season, on Wednesday with the second game at Norwalk on Friday. Glenn, which is currently in the Desert Cities Classic, began this past week with a 10-2 mark and both teams are already a combined 3-0 against Mayfair High in Suburban League action.

“If I had to realistically say, if we had gone 1-1 with Mayfair, that would have been great,” Wenrick said. “[But] we went 2-0 with Mayfair. Not looking ahead of anybody, Glenn is a great ball club. [Head coach] Jack [Brooks] has those guys ready every year. So, we’re just focusing in on that.”

Wenrick says he hasn’t seen Glenn play this season but has talked to other coaches who have played Glenn and gotten a scouting report off that. Senior Anthony Gonzalez, who has started five games but is 1-1, will start on Wednesday while Perez, who is 4-1 with two complete games, will go on Friday.