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BASEBALL – Chi, Sierra homer as Cerritos puts away Valley Christian with five-run fourth inning

Cerritos High sophomore shortstop Dalton Chi (#1) is greeted by his teammates after hitting a two-out, three-run home run in the top of the fourth inning last Saturday evening at Valley Christian High. The Dons shutout the Defenders 8-0 as Chi went two for two, scored twice and was walked two other times. Photo by Armando Vargas, Contributing photographer

March 22, 2023

By Loren Kopff * @LorenKopff on Twitter

The history of the non-league rivalry between Cerritos High and Valley Christian High has been interesting in that the games have either been blowouts, shutouts or contests decided by three runs or less. Since 2011, the two have played five doubleheaders with Cerritos coming away with 10-0 and 14-0 wins among its four wins while four V.C. victories have been by 4-0, 4-3, 9-7 and 12-3 decisions.

Last Saturday evening, the two met again at V.C. and on the first pitch of the game, sophomore shortstop Dalton Chi doubled to the left field gap. He would score on an error two batters later and the Dons used a five-run top of the fourth inning to blank the Defenders 8-0, leaving both teams with identical 5-5 records.

“We played a team game today,” said Cerritos first-year head coach Chris Masella. “Great defense, great pitching. We made some spectacular plays up the middle [and] we had a couple of guys go yard. We put together some good at-bats and we grinded. When we grind, we play really well, and that’s what the outcome is.”

Not only was the offense on fire, the pitching was stellar as senior starter Dylan Burton, senior Raymond Sierra and junior Johann Gibbs combined for a four-hitter, struck out six and allowed one batter to reach second base.

The lead increased to 2-0 in the third when junior right fielder Noah Gapuz reached on an infield single, went to second on a passed ball and came home on a groundout from Gibbs. But in the next inning, the Dons sent nine batters to the plate and scored five runs with two outs. It began with a Sierra double with one out and was followed by an infield single from sophomore left fielder Braxton Reed.

After the second strikeout thrown by freshman Lucas Witt, he would walk Gapuz to load the bases before a single to left from junior pinch hitter Nathaniel Corrigan brought home Sierra and Reed. Then on an 0-2 count, Chi launched a home run to center to vault the advantage to 7-0.

The final run of the game came in the seventh inning when Sierra hot a one-out roundtripper.

“I think our guys were a little bit tired in [this] game,” said V.C. first-year head coach Tim Blume. “It was kind of a game to let some younger guys get some opportunities and I was real proud of our guys even though we didn’t do as well as we wanted, of course.”

The Defenders, who had routed Olympic League rival Heritage Christian High 12-2 last Friday, made up a rained-out game with Whittier Christian High prior to the regularly scheduled Cerritos contest. V.C. won that game 8-4 for the team’s third straight win. But three games in roughly 24 hours caught up to the Defenders.

Burton worked the first four innings, allowing second inning hits to senior first baseman Kenny Hoogerheide and Witt and a two-out single to center fielder Austin Abrahams in the fourth. The only other runner to reach base off Burton was senior second baseman Evan Sawai, who earned a two-out walk. Gibbs and Sierra combined to throw 42 pitches, allow two runners and strikeout four batters.

“I thought he mixed his pitches well,” said Blume of Burton. “I just think we couldn’t get any feel from him. We couldn’t get any idea; we were guessing up there. Their pitcher did a really good job.”

Like all other outdoor spring athletic teams, Cerritos and V.C. have had to navigate through the recent inclement weather to make up games or find open dates to reschedule rained out contests. Still, both teams have handled the adversity to split their first 10 games.

“It starts us off with everything,” said Masella of the days off because of the rain. “Our pitching staff now is on point where we can just continue to go in motion with what we’ve been doing. We don’t have to struggle because we wasted too many pitchers in this game. We’re still in a good place as far as the rotation goes. We actually had a really good practice on Friday leading up to this game today and I think that was the difference. We were able to get back onto the field after not being on the field for five days with the rain from last time.”

On top of that, Cerritos, which has won three straight 605 League titles made a coaching change in early February. It’s the third head coach in as many seasons for a program that has gone 66-22 over the past four seasons. Blume replaced Matt Dahlenburg in November and becomes the 11th head coach since 2002.

“With the coaching change, we came in and told our guys we have 10 games,” said Masella. “We’re going to act like it’s spring training and we’re going to implement a few new things. We kind of struggled with guys in different places, so we kind of moved around a couple of infielders and a couple of outfielders, dropped a couple of guys, brought a couple of up [from junior varsity]. We took the first 10 games and this is game number 10 as spring training.

“The chemistry has been there,” he continued. “But I think them kind of coming into their own with what positions that they’re playing and what their roles are going to be, they’re kind of embracing it and we’re rocking and rolling.”

“These guys are really passionate, and they are very coachable,” said Blume. “There’s not a lot of quit in them. We’ve come behind in three games now and we almost beat Mira Costa when we were down.”

Cerritos was to have opened league play against Pioneer High this past Tuesday before completing the home and home with the Titans on the road on Friday. The Dons then are slated to visit Mayfair High on Saturday and go to Artesia High on Tuesday.

V.C. was to have hosted Maranatha High this past Tuesday but planned to make it up on Mar. 24 before visiting the Minutemen on Friday for its last regular scheduled games until Apr. 4.

“No one likes to lose,” said Blume. “That’s the fact to the matter. I hope they take what they’ve learned in this game; that’s what we spoke about. You take what you learned, and you move forward.”