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ST. PAUL TOURNAMENT: Cerritos scores early again, gets stellar pitching from Geppert to extend winning streak

Cerritos high school logo, don

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

Entering last Saturday’s home contest with Venice High in the first of three pool play games of the St. Paul Tournament, the Cerritos High baseball team had outscored its opponents 33-2 in the first inning. To go one step further, the Dons had allowed 16 runs through the first three innings in the 18 games prior to last Saturday.

When you have numbers like that, you’re more likely to come out on the winning side and that’s what happened to the Dons in a 5-2 victory. It was the eighth straight win for Cerritos, which began the week ranked ninth in the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 poll.

“Our goal is to have a boxer’s come-out, a puncher’s come-out,” said first-year head coach Martin Rodriguez. “We want to start a game, whether we’re home or away…if we’re home, we want to put a zero on defense and come back and put a number on the board. And we know if we can put a number on the board, that we’re going to be hard to beat. We’ve proven it.”

Senior pitcher Evan Geppert was on fire in the early going, allowing just a one-out single to Ruben Medina in the top of the first inning through the first 10 batters he faced. Offensively, the Dons couldn’t muster much but were doing the work in other ways while getting help from the Venice defense. With one out in the bottom of the first, senior catcher Owen Gott, who will be going to Concordia University in the fall, doubled down the right field line, moved to third on a groundout from junior left fielder Raymond Sierra and came home on a balk from Jordan Flores. The double would be the only hit Cerritos got through the first three innings while Flores walked three batters.

“Personally, at least in high school ball from my experience, it’s really important to set the tone in the first inning,” said Geppert. “That first inning…it really just shows what they’re made of; what they’re coming out with. That single…I kind of had to put that behind me. That inning showed that we’re going to come out on top today.”

In addition to scoring in the first inning, Rodriguez and his team also takes pride in pitching and defense and the Dons had been riding a streak of 20 straight innings without allowing a run. That was snapped when Medina singled to lead off the fourth. A double play would send him to third before he tied the game on a base hit from Kevin Blake.

“Defense, efficient offense and pitching,” said Rodriguez as his keys to winning. “Our pitching again…you can see Evan Geppert getting stronger as the game went on, which is something we haven’t seen before. He’s really taking account to his own conditioning. He’s running a lot more on his own. He’s throwing more between starts. He knows he’s going to get one start a week, as does [junior] Dylan Burton.”

The Dons put the game away in the bottom of the fourth inning with three runs on one hit. Flores walked junior center fielder Paul Kim and sophomore first baseman Nathaniel Corrigan, recently called up from the junior varsity team, was safe on an error. Geppert sacrificed Corrigan to second before an infield single from senior third baseman Ethan Vo plated Kim.

Moments later, Vo stole second and Corrigan took advantage, scoring the team’s third run. A sacrifice fly from freshman designated hitter Braxton Reed, another player called up from the lower levels prior to the game, allowed Vo to come home and in the next inning, sophomore right fielder Johan Gibbs and Kim led off with base hits to center before a sacrifice from Corrigan and a groundout from Geppert made it 5-1.

The Gondoliers would make things interesting in the last inning when Daniel Quiroz and Medina had consecutive one-out doubles, followed by a single from Colin McNeal. But a strikeout and a groundout ended the game. The Cerritos pitching staff has posted seven shutouts, a trio of one-hit games and a pair of two-hit contests. Through the first 19 games, Cerritos pitchers had allowed 41 runs.

“It’s a challenge for all of them to continue to be efficient,” said Rodriguez. “The limiting of runs comes with efficiency of pitches and when we’re not falling behind in the count…a lot of parents have asked me this year, ‘what does FPS mean’? It’s first pitch strike; we are begging our pitchers to throw first pitch strikes because then we can start mixing in off-speed and we can kind of dictate the at-bat for the batter.”

Geppert, who has won three straight games after a 9-2 loss to El Rancho High on Mar. 19, pitched five strong innings, facing 20 batters, allowing three hits, striking out four and throwing 75 pitches. Junior Max Meza worked the last two innings and struck out three.

“It was hot, so during practice it was hard for me to get into this last week,” said Geppert. “I was kind of feeling a little shaky warming up today. But I got on the mound and everything kind of went away.”

“I have to give credit where credit is due,” he later said. “El Rancho is a really good hitting team. It’s not my personal opinion, but they’re the best hitting team we’ve played all season. I kind of felt I had a proving ground after that [loss]. Some doubts may have arisen in the team, maybe in the coaching staff that I wouldn’t be able to step up against good teams. I had to prove that I’m still the same guy that won that many games during the preseason.”

Cerritos defeated Pioneer High 15-1 this past Tuesday to begin its third of four 605 League home and home series this season, hoping to keep its new league dynasty going. The Dons have now won 23 straight 605 League wins without a loss and a win over Pioneer on Apr. 14 would assure the team of no worse than a share of the league crown. Cerritos will host Banning High on Saturday and Paraclete High on Monday to complete pool play action in the St. Paul Tournament. Sophomore Carter Chi was expected to start the second game against Pioneer with Geppert slated to start against Banning and Burton against Paraclete.

“I think Pioneer is going to be fighting for their lives because Artesia has kind of locked themselves into that second playoff spot,” said Rodriguez. “So, that third spot is going to come down between Pioneer and Oxford Academy. They’re all going to be scrapping and scraping and just throwing everything they can at us. We’re ready for it.”

“I think all 18, 19 guys are pretty confident that we’re going to beat Pioneer,” said Geppert. “But it doesn’t mean we’ve won the game yet. We still have to come out strong. Again, that first inning is going to be crucial. We have to put three, four runs on the board [and] our starters have to shut them out. That’s how we beat Pioneer both games.”