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BORAS BASEBALL CLASSIC – La Mirada starts fast, puts away Norco early to win consolation championship of four-day event

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

SANTA ANA-In the first game of the 11th annual Boras Baseball Classic on Apr. 11, a series of defensive blunders in one inning led to La Mirada High falling to Huntington Beach High 6-0. But the Matadores bounced back over the next three games, allowed four runs in 22 innings, and captured the consolation championship of the prestigious tournament with an 8-1 win over Norco High last Friday night at Rod Dedeaux Baseball Stadium.

With so much talk on the defense this season, especially in the past few weeks, the best catch of the night was a line drive foul ball snared by head coach Jimmy Zurn near the third base coach’s box late in the game.

“I have to show my guys I used to be able to play this game at one time pretty well,” he chuckled after the game. “Hey, if I can make plays, you can make plays.”

But against the Cougars, it was more about the offense as the Matadores did most of the damage in the first two innings, then got stellar pitching from seniors Pablo Hidalgo and Jeremiah Sotelo.

“We obviously were disappointed with the way we played on Tuesday,” said Zurn. “Like I told our guys, great teams respond. We were very uncharacteristic in the one inning which led to the one big inning against Huntington Beach and great teams respond, and they did that. It’s tough to do. Thinking about the magnitude of this tournament; how great the teams are in this tournament…what that group just accomplished is very difficult to do. Four games in four days, losing your first and winning three straight against three big time D1 teams is very challenging.”

With one out in the top of the first inning, Jacob Brown walked sophomore shortstop Aiden Aguayo, who then stole second. A base hit from sophomore first baseman Maverek Russell plated Aguayo and on an 0-2 pitch, senior designated hitter Benjamin Kim singled to right. That was followed by a two-out, three-run home run from sophomore center fielder Travis Friend. The four runs marked the third time this season that the Matadores had scored at least four runs in the first inning. They accomplished that feat in the second game of the season against Dana Hills High on Feb. 18, an 11-1 win, and again on Mar. 20 against Douglas (NV) High in a 9-4 victory in a Lions Tournament contest.

“It’s very difficult to score runs in the competition we play,” said Zurn. “At La Mirada, we’re playing the best teams that we can find to play. And that’s always been our motto. It’s not like we’re facing slouch arms. But it definitely took some pressure off. Obviously getting the three-run home run in the first from Travis and Mav follows that up with a bomb in the second, and it let us relax and just play. It was nice not have to be in a super tight game today.”

But La Mirada wasn’t done as in the next inning, again with one out, sophomore catcher Jacob Celiz was safe on an error and after a groundout from senior second baseman Aiden Haller, made it 5-0 on Aguayo’s double to the right field gap. On the next pitch, Russell sent a long distance hit over the right field fence to expand the lead. The exit velocity on the home run was 96 miles per hour.

That would be more than enough for Sotelo, who was making his first start of the season and had entered the game having pitched four innings and yielding four hits. After a perfect bottom of the first, Sotelo gave up base hits to Logan Ortega and Ty Walton in the second and walked Steven Jones to load the bases. Ethan Barela was safe on a fielder’s choice with Ortega scoring on an error. Sotelo would settle down and get Robert Delatorre to flyout and Cody Windham to pop-up.

“Jeremiah is a four-year varsity guy; he’s a senior,” said Zurn. “We have all the confidence in the world in him. Obviously, in the four innings it’s choosing how things are going. And then Pablo following and doing what he did, that’s two seniors that this place means a lot to them. This was a big deal and it was their moment and they stepped up. That was huge.”

Hidalgo would work the final five innings of the game, setting down the first six batters he faced before Delatorre led off the fifth with a base hit. The Cougars would collect four hits off Hidalgo but stranded four runners, two of which were left at third base with two outs in the fifth and seventh innings respectively.

“I think that’s when, for us, we kind of felt, ‘okay, we got through it’,” said Zurn after the bottom of the second. “Even if [Sotelo] went 1-2-3 that inning, he was going two innings. That was our plan because we want to utilize him…we have four games next week with a lot of rain makeups. The kids deserve two days off and I’m excited to get back on Monday.”

The final run of the game came in the fourth when Trent Schlim walked Celiz, who was replaced by junior pinch runner Harrison Park. After a strikeout, Aguayo singled to left to bring home Park. Aguayo went two for two and reached base three times while Russell went three for three and drove in three runs. Friend, Kim and senior pinch hitter Jonah Rouwenhorst would all pick up the other hits La Mirada would get.

“They’re both sophomores and they’re both going to UCLA for a reason,” said Zurn of Aguayo and Russell. “They’re as talented of kids that we’ve ever had here, and I’m blessed as a coach to get them for two more years after this. They’re just super high end and high character kids. They’re team leaders; they do things the right way.”

The Matadores would fall to Tesoro High this past Monday to see their record go to 15-6 and will continue to be busy over the final two weeks of the regular season. This past Wednesday, La Mirada hosted Downey High in a Gateway League contest before going to Warren High on Apr. 20 and Bellflower High on Friday. If La Mirada, 6-0 in league, can win those three league contests, it will set up a blockbuster final week of the season as it will face Gahr High, also undefeated in league play, on Tuesday, Thursday and Apr. 29.

“Those teams are tough,” said Zurn. “It’s my responsibility; it’s our entire team’s responsibility not to overlook anybody. Our league is very difficult, so we will be ready for Wednesday.”