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MID-CITIES LEAGUE BASEBALL – Norwalk jumps on Mayfair early, holds on to win rare league title

The 2023 Mid-Cities League baseball champions Norwalk High with head coach William Wenrick (sitting on bucket). The Lancers defeated Mayfair High 9-5 last Friday to win the program’s first league title since 1995. PHOTO BY LOREN KOPFF.

April 24. 2023

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

LAKEWOOD-The last time any Norwalk High baseball team won a league title, Michael Barnhill was a senior and one of the starting pitchers. His son, Caden, is a senior on this season’s team, has excelled at shortstop and at the top of the batting order.

The senior-heavy Lancers ended years of frustration being in the Suburban League, having to look up to La Mirada High and Mayfair High in the standings, and knocked off the latter 9-5 last Friday to win the inaugural Mid-Cities League championship. Norwalk, which entered the contest ranked third in the CIF-Southern Southern Division 6 poll and is still in that position for the final week of the regular season, improved to 19-4, 13-0 while the Monsoons, who were ranked two spots behind Norwalk in the division, dropped to 17-8, 12-2.

“It’s true what they say,” said Norwalk head coach William Wenrick. “I can’t really describe how winning feels. It’s just an unbelievable feeling. But I’m so proud for these guys. Like I said, the majority of them have been here for three years, two of them for four years and watching them mature is just…those are the things that are coming into my mind right now. I’m not really thinking about being undefeated. I’m not thinking about who we’re [going to see] in the playoffs. I’m just thinking about how proud I am of this group to this point.”

“We had all the talent, it’s just trying to put the camaraderie together,” said senior third baseman Gabriel Cancino, who called last Friday’s feeling surreal. “But it looks like it finally clicked this year.”

Cancino said that the phrase ‘league title’ was mentioned at the beginning of the season as it was one of the goals, something that probably hasn’t been talked about much over the past 28 years. He said that Wenrick told the team back in February the team could do big things if the players put their grit into it.

The game began on a sloppy note for both teams as the Lancers scored three times in the top of the first inning as there were three hits, a hit batter, a runner reaching on an error and three wild pitches. Barnhill reached on that error and on the next pitch, senior center fielder Randy Martinez put down a bunt in front of the pitcher’s mound and was safe at first. Senior pitcher Kaleb Nakano would then be safe on a wild pitch after he struck out, but not before Barnhill opened the scoring by coming home on a wild pitch.

Senior left fielder Jonathan Guzman’s single to center plated Martinez and after a double play, Cancino doubled to the left field gap, driving in Guzman, which would be a recurring theme throughout the contest.

Mayfair answered back in its half of the inning with a pair of runs on a pair of hits, a hit batter, an error and a wild pitch. But after that, Nakano settled down over the next two innings, allowing one hit in the second and getting Donny Brooks to ground out with the bases loaded in the third.

“That was huge, especially for us being visitors,” said Wenrick of the first inning. “We had a feeling we were going to get [pitcher Joel Dawson] and we had a great session yesterday; a good hitting session yesterday. We just came out. He was around the plate; we were just going after it.”

After Barnhill reached on a two-out fielder’s choice in the second, he would come home on a triple to the right field gap from Martinez. But the dagger in heart would come in the third when five consecutive hits, all with none out, led to four runs and an 8-2 lead.

Guzman, junior first baseman Joseph Davis, Cancino, senior second baseman Kevin Carrillo and senior catcher Steven Martinez would all be part of that big inning. The final Norwalk run came in the fourth as Michael Corrales walked Guzman with one out and he would come home on a two-out double down the left field line from Cancino. Norwalk wouldn’t get a hit for the remainder of the game and had three baserunners, but Cancino’s pitching would keep the Lancers in the lead.

“We talked about it a little bit yesterday at the end of practice that when we come here…two years ago we were up 7-1 going into the fifth and we just fell apart and lost,” said Wenrick. “Anytime when we come here, it’s really tough for us to win, and I put it in the kids’ heads. They’re not going to go away. I think this is the first game I’ve won here in my nine years [as head coach].”

“That’s huge,” said Cancino. “It’s like smacking them in the mouth and don’t give them time to think; don’t give them room to breathe or anything like that.”

“I feel like we saw the pitching a little better than in the beginning of the game,” said Cancino. “He was struggling in the first inning and was throwing a lot of pitches and were getting on top of them.”

With the score 9-3, Mayfair got to Cancino in the fifth as Ryan Diggle singled and Damien Rodriguez reached on a walk. Then with one out, a double from Nathan Baca plated both runs. A single from Nolan Fox and a walk to Cooper Boyd loaded the bases before Cancino got Matthew Ward to strikeout on three pitches. It would be the beginning of seven straight retired to end the game.

“It wasn’t one of my best performances,” said Cancino. “I just tried to throw strikes and tried to find the location. That’s all I was trying to do.”

Cancino worked the final three innings, striking out four, scattering three hits and walking two while Nakano tossed 62 pitches in his four innings, giving up five hits and striking out one.

“This is how we played them the first time,” said Wenrick. “I had Kaleb go first and then Gabriel to follow. We would have let him go longer; he was at 63 [pitches]. I don’t think he’s been more than 80. That was our plan coming in. he was going to go four or five and then we were going to follow with Gabriel.”

Norwalk pounded out 13 hits with Cancino collecting three of them and driving in Guzman three times. Guzman and Martinez each had two hits as every starter reached base in some fashion. Norwalk ends the regular season with another game at Mayfair on Wednesday, then goes to Lynwood High on Friday in a makeup contest from Mar. 31. The 19 wins are the most for the program in over 26 seasons. Since then, the best the Lancers did was 16-9, which came in 2005. Also, since 1999, Norwalk had not finished higher than third place.

“I don’t think we’ll have a problem getting fired up with these guys,” said Wenrick. “I don’t think we’ll have a problem with that. But just as we have been when we go through the streaks when we weren’t playing as good, it’s just staying on them and staying focused is what we can do. Getting a good routine in pregame and going into the game ready.”

LCCN is looking for a sports photographer, if interested contact Loen Kopff, [email protected].