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BASEBALL: Norwalk runs the bases in throwback victory over former Suburban League rival Artesia


By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter • April 29, 2021


When Artesia High was in the Suburban League, there was a time when its baseball team battled Norwalk High for the final playoff spot. In fact, that rivalry was quite intense with Artesia holding a 21-20 advantage in games played from 1999-2017.

The last time they faced each other was Apr. 13, 2017, an 8-3 Artesia win on the road. The teams were scheduled to face each other last Mar. 20, but the season had been halted by then. They renewed their rivalry last Saturday and the visiting Lancers dominated in every aspect, running away with an 8-1 victory that left them 2-1 on the young season. Norwalk stole 11 bases and benefited from six Artesia errors.

“They gave us opportunities, but that’s what we’re going for,” said Norwalk head coach William Wenrick. “Last year, when we started winning our three games in a row, we started buying in with the bunting and the running and the delayed steals. That’s something that we used to kick start our offense.”

“I think it’s a mental thing,” said Artesia first-year head coach Jose Serrano. “Here at Artesia High School, the mental game hasn’t been here for the last eight or nine years. You have to be mentally tough, and I think that’s what our kids are lacking. That’s something that I’m going to change. I’m going to teach them how to prepare themselves for the game [and] how it starts. The game doesn’t start with the first pitch. The game starts an hour before when we start stretching, and I think that’s what it is.”

Serrano had reason to be frustrated as he was displeased with his team’s warmup routine some 30 minutes prior to the start of the game. The lackluster performance carried well into the game as the Pioneers were held to one hit, which didn’t come until the bottom of the sixth inning and was a two-out single from senior center fielder Jelani Hopkins.

Before that, Norwalk senior pitcher Adam Aneste was putting together a masterful performance as he faced one above the minimum through the first four innings, striking out eight batters and allowing three baserunners.

“He’s really worked hard through the Covid, gaining arm strength,” Wenrick said. “His problem in the past was he was afraid to always start off with a first-pitch fastball [and] jumping ahead. Now he’s going after guys a little bit more. He’s being a little more successful and we’ve only had three games. But each game, he’s looked well.”

Norwalk went to work early and often but didn’t score until the top of the third. It began when Aneste reached on an error, stole second, advanced to third on a single from senior third baseman Christian Johnson and came home on an error, which allowed Johnson to go to second. Two pitches later, junior catcher Angel Rosales singled to bring in Johnson.

The Lancers, who left 10 runners on base and had a runner in six of the seven innings, would put the game away in the fourth inning by sending nine batters to the plate. With one out, senior right fielder Nathaniel Garcia was hit by a pitch, stole second and scored on an infield hit from sophomore center fielder Randy Martinez. Three pitches later and with Martinez on second after the seventh stolen base, Aneste and Johnson would reach on back to back errors before Aneste came home on a fielder’s choice from Rosales. Norwalk would add three more runs in the fifth with the benefit of two errors, one hit and a walk.

“I think it’s a lack of experience, pitching-wise,” Serrano said. “I have three or four guys who have never really pitched. So, they don’t know the [little slide step]. Teaching them that is going to change that. Getting them to understand they need to be quicker and throw strikes at the same time…that’s going to change.”

If the 11 stolen bases weren’t bad enough, the Pioneers (1-4) were stymied all morning by Aneste, senior Eduardo Nuno and sophomore Kaleb Nakano, who all combined to strike out 11 batters, walk three and yield just one hit. They also combined to throw 107 pitches.

“It’s the speed,” Serrano said. “I don’t think these kids are used to seeing anybody throw 77, 78, 80 miles per hour. The last four games, everybody we’ve faced were throwing about 70. Teaching them the speed and how to get their foot down quicker [is what] is going to change that approach.”

The lone Artesia run came with two outs in the fifth when Nuno walked sophomore left fielder Richard Saad, who would then be safe at second on an error when sophomore first baseman Francisco Sandoval reached on a fielder’s choice, loading the bases. Saad would later come home on a wild pitch. In all, Artesia had eight runners reach base and stranded half of them on the basepaths.

Johnson went three for five and scored twice while six other players all had a hit apiece. Aneste scored three times as the Lancers got a late start to the short season, not to mention they have to practice off campus as a new state of the art baseball field is still under construction. The Lancers will play all their 2021 games on the road.

“It’s been really rough because with our field still being built, last year they were able to bus us over to Holifield [Park],” Wenrick said. “So, we were able to practice at Holifield on a regular field. Now, without the bussing, we just go to [Corvallis] Middle School which has a little league field. That’s been the roughest part for us the last two or three weeks.

“Our defense seems to be pretty solid,” he continued. “But our hitting, sometimes, can go either way.”

The Lancers, who fell to Mayfair High 10-7 this past Tuesday, will face the Monsoons again today before taking next week off. The next time Norwalk will be in action after the Mayfair game will be May 11 when it travels to Firebaugh High for the first of its final six games of the regular season.

“Sure, we would have liked to have more games, but it’s great that we’re out here,” Wenrick said. “I feel really good for our seniors. I have two more kids not here today; two more sophomores. I’m carrying six sophomores this year. So, [the future] looks bright coming up with the new field and everything like that. We’ll just see if we can win a few games in league here and get ourselves going.”

Artesia was no-hit by Cerritos High senior Matt Rezendes in a 19-0 decision this past Tuesday and will travel to Cerritos today before travelling to Oxford Academy on Tuesday. In the six games played this season, the Pioneers have been held to a run or fewer four times and have allowed at least 10 runs three times.

“I’m glad we’re starting against Cerritos,” Serrano said. “The kids are going to look at it like, ‘this is the team to beat’. This is a team that if we want to win the 605 League, this is the team we want to play. I’m glad we’re facing them right away so they know that if we ever want to compete in this league, Cerritos is the team we want to beat.”