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ST. PAUL TOURNAMENT: Cerritos navigates win over Banning behind Hill’s bat, Pinal’s arm

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

The Cerritos High baseball team was mired in a season-long three-game losing streak entering the beginning of the week. That’s when first-year head coach Brooks Walling went to his ace pitcher, and he delivered at the beginning the team’s game against Banning High, as well as in the end.

Senior pitcher Matthew Pinal was brilliant through the first six innings, then was replaced, but came back to get the final two outs as the Dons held on for a 7-6 win against the Pilots this past Monday in pool play action of the St. Paul Tournament.

“I thought we played well,” Walling said. “We came in trying to get back on track with our number one guy after dropping two to Murrieta Valley. I don’t think Banning was expecting to see Pinal today.”

Cerritos was previously swept by Murrieta Valley High in a doubleheader and lost a heartbreaking one-run decision to Glendora High in eight innings. But against Banning, the Dons collected a season-high 10 hits. After Banning grabbed a 1-0 lead after half an inning, the Dons went to work, but stranded a pair of runners in their half of the inning. In the second inning, Cerritos nearly batted around and took a 2-1 lead. Sophomore third baseman Nick Hill doubled with one out, scoring senior designated hitter Bernie DeLeon. Three batters later, Pinal sent a deep ball to left field to plate Hill.

After the Pilots tied the contest in the fourth inning, the hosts took the lead for good with a pair of runs in their half of the frame. On the first pitch, Hill doubled to right field and came home on a double from senior right fielder Matthew Aguinaga. Moments later, junior center fielder Raul Garcia singled to right, allowing Aguinaga to make it 4-2.

In the next inning and with one out, Angel Jimenez walked junior first baseman Jayden Baerg. After the second out, a walk to freshman pinch hitter Owen Gott paved the way for Aguinaga to single on a full count. That was followed by Pinal’s single on another full count. Prior to the game, the Dons had left 74 runners on base in 64 innings with four doubles coming into the game. Against Banning, Cerritos collected four doubles and despite stranding nine runners on base, the timely hits were evident.

“We talked about guys having to step up and somebody wanted to be a dude,” Walling said. “I think they got the message today. Guys clutched up when they needed to, finally.”

However, the top of the seventh inning needed to be played and Cerritos had to sweat it out. Pinal was replaced with senior Rene Moran who walked a batter and gave up back to back hits with one out to load the bases. Moran then hit Tomas Estrada to make it 7-3. After a single to Gabriel Gonzalez, which made it 7-4, Moran hit Isaac Magana, still with the bases loaded. That’s when Walling decided to bring Pinal back in to shut the door.

“He had 82 pitches; I was trying to save him,” Walling said of taking Pinal out after the sixth inning. “I don’t want to abuse him. We had a five-run lead; he’s our guy. We wanted to get some guy’s [some] work.

“In high school rules, as long as [a pitcher] doesn’t leave the lineup, he can come back in,” Walling later said. “I’m not going to let a victory slip out of our hands. I ask him if he was good to go and he said he wanted the baseball. So, he slammed the door right there for us.”

Pinal immediately struck out Shiloh Abito and after walking Joseph Licea, which allowed Estrada to make it 7-6, Frankie Franco was caught looking for the final out. Pinal ended with half a dozen strikeouts and allowed only two hits. Aguinaga, Garcia and Hill all had a pair of hits. Cerritos then took care of Long Beach Cabrillo High 4-1 the next day to improve to 6-5. In the process, the Dons advanced to the semifinals of the tournament, which will be played later in the season. Cerritos will travel to Vista Murrieta High on Saturday and Villa Park High on Tuesday.

“I think we’ve made that leap to an elite program,” Walling said. “I really believe we have. Glendora, obviously, came in struggling. They got hot and they’ve won three in a row since they knocked us off. And, we had the lead in the eighth. [Against] Murrieta Valley, we were right there, 3-3 in the sixth against another high-end opponent. Banning is no joke. I think they’re top five in their division over in the [CIF] City Section.”