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BASEBALL: Cerritos romps Valley Christian to salvage doubleheader split in season opener for both

Valley Christian High junior pitcher Austin Wilkinson delivers the season’s first pitch to Cerritos senior shortstop Jared Pugrad last Saturday afternoon in the first game of a doubleheader. V.C. won the first game 4-3 while Cerritos took the second game 10-0. PHOTO BY LOREN KOPFF.


March 25, 2021

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter


The season-opening doubleheader between host Valley Christian High and Cerritos High was easily a tale of two different games and in fact, the Dons were a strike away from leaving with a sweep. But a hit batter with the bases loaded and a balk two pitches later gave the hosts the victory in the first game.

The nightcap was completely one-sided as consecutive triples from senior shortstop Jared Pugrad and senior center fielder Nick Toney set the tone for what would be a 10-0 victory. The Dons put the game away with six runs in the top of the fourth inning and had nine hits seven players.

“I think it took a game for them to kind of get the cobwebs out,” said Cerritos assistant coach Martin Rodriguez. “We were talking about it right now in our end of game meeting; it’s been a year and 13 days since we were at Downey High School. We had a win that day, then we had a game rained out and the next thing you know, two weeks turned into two months turned into a year. And it took them some time. We started late; we’ve had only a week of practice and for them to kind of shake everything out of their system and come back in that second game is what we expected from them.”

“Oh man, I don’t even know what to say,” said V.C. head coach Matt Dahlenburg. “I was kind of nervous today. It’s been a little over a year actually, I want to say, since we’ve played and [we’re] itching to get back at it. It just feels good to be back out here.”

After Cerritos scored just the one run in the first inning, it added three more in the next inning, highlighted by sophomore right fielder Raymond Sierra’s two-run double, which plated senior second baseman Edgar Lorenzo and sophomore left fielder Paul Kim, who began the inning with a double and a single, respectively.

Cerritos would send 11 batters to the plate in the fourth, collecting three hits while having V.C. pitchers walk five. Not only did the Dons tee off on the first three of five pitchers the Defenders used in the second game, but they also got a brilliant performance from senior pitcher Jude Alfaro, who worked into the fifth inning, allowed one hit, walked one and struck out five. The lone hit came from senior right fielder Connor Gerdes with two outs in the third inning. In fact, none of the three V.C. baserunners in the game got past first base.

“He was incredible,” Rodriguez said of Alfaro. “We knew going in that we could stretch him out a little bit. He was one of the many kids in Southern California playing travel ball. So, he was on a routine unit and he stayed strong and we knew we didn’t have to limit him to 20 to 30 pitches out of the gate because he’d been throwing.”

The lone bright spot for the Defenders in the game came from junior pitcher Ryan Zamarippa, who pitched two and two-thirds inning, allowed one hit and struck out five.

“Ryan has come a long way since his first year,” Dahlenburg said. “His first year, he had arm problems with us and pretty much played defense and hit a little bit. Last year, he got back on the mound for a little bit, but obviously it was a shortened season. He’s going to be one of our guys out of the bullpen that we’re going to rely on a lot.”

In the first game, in which the hosts to scratch out a 4-3 victory, Cerritos grabbed a 1-0 lead in the third inning when Toney, who was batting ninth, was hit by a pitch and scored two outs later on a base hit from junior catcher Owen Gott. The Defenders tied the game in their half of the inning when senior shortstop Austin Horio singled, stole second and came home on an error.

Cerritos regained the lead in the next inning when freshman second baseman Carter Chi doubled, moved to third on a sacrifice fly from freshman right fielder Johann Gibbs and scored on a Toney single. But V.C. knotted the game at 2-2 in the fifth when sophomore pinch hitter Nolan Lynott was walked, moved to second on an error and to third on a balk before coming home on a sacrifice fly from junior second baseman Ben Carter.

In the top of the seventh, sophomore Evan Sawai walked Pugrad, who moved to second on a sacrifice from Kim and scored on an error. Then in the bottom of the seventh, Chi, who replaced senior Maxwell Shea on the mound in the fifth inning, walked Gerdes and Horio before striking out Carter. After a balk advanced the runners and a pop-up to senior catcher Matt Bean, Chi walked junior third baseman Carson Slager to load the bases. He then hit Zamarippa on an 0-2 count, allowing Gerdes to tie the game. After a 2-0 count to sophomore first baseman Jacob Smith, a balk was called to bring in Horio for the game winner.

“Since I’ve been here, our M.O. has been pitch and play defense and get runs any way we can,” Dahlenburg said. “That’s why doing the job is bunting guys over, [sacrifice] flies, being aggressive on the bases on passed balls and all the good stuff. It just showed in the first game; we only had one hit, but we pitched and played defense really well and that’s what saved us.”

“We wanted to stay with the youngster; we had a freshman on the mound,” Rodriguez said of Chi. “We wanted to see if he could handle the pressure, to be honest with you. The balk that was called on him was something that is rarely called. It’s unfortunate that the game ended that way. The true testament to Carter Chi was that when we gave him a chance the next game with the bases loaded, he came back up and hit a hard ball up the middle for an RBI. He put that first game behind him. For a 14-year old to do that was incredible.”

Even though the Defenders got one hit, the two Cerritos pitchers combined to walk seven batters, three others reached on a fielder’s choice, two were hit by a pitch and one was safe on an error. Junior Austin Wilkinson worked into the fourth inning, giving up four hits, two runs, walked three and struck out five.

“He’s going to be one of our guys this year,” Dahlenburg said. “It’s his first year with us and his first year with me, so it’s a lot of learning curves with that. To be honest with you, most of the guys out here, it’s mental stuff. I tell them every single day, we’re going to give up runs, we’re going to walk guys, we’re going to hit guys [and] our guys are going to make some errors and how we come back on the mound is going to determine how good we’re going to be.”

V.C. will host Mayfair High this evening and visit Bellflower High on Monday before hosting the Buccaneers on Wednesday while Cerritos will next be in action on Apr. 6 at Mary Star of the Sea High.