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BASEBALL – Valley Christian rallies with monster inning to crush Artesia in non-league tilt

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

Less than a week before the end of the regular season, Artesia High hosted Valley Christian High in a battle of teams who needed one final tune-up before facing last place teams in their respective leagues. Both needed to win at least one of their last two league contests to claim a spot in the CIF-Southern Section playoffs.

The first four innings was as close as you would expect but in the top of the fifth, the visiting Defenders sent 14 batters to the plate, scoring eight times and ran away with a 9-2 victory last Saturday morning.

“I liked our adjustment because we were coming off a very emotional league win yesterday that we had to win in order to have a chance to make the playoffs,” said V.C. first-year head coach Tim Blume. “I was a little concerned about our energy coming into this game and we jumped out to a one-run lead early, and then they responded with two.”

Less than 24 hours prior to the game, V.C. edged Whittier Christian High 4-3, giving the Defenders a 4-6 Olympic League mark but more importantly, a series win over the Heralds, who are also 4-6. V.C. had seen a 1-0 first-inning league turn into a 2-1 deficit when the Pioneers scored their runs in the bottom of the fourth on a double from senior center fielder Vicente Rodriguez, a run-scoring hit from senior third baseman Reggie Steele and a single from sophomore first baseman Daniel Carbajal, who would advance to second on an error and score on another error.

“It looked good,” said Artesia head coach Jose Serrano. “The guys got a couple of hits together, scored those two runs; we should have scored one more. But with our pitching staff right now kind of down, I tried to push [senior] Brandon [Garcia] one more inning. I knew I shouldn’t, but I was trying to give him the game.”

But V.C. went to work the next inning from the beginning as Garcia walked senior center fielder Jeremy Gallagher and sophomore right fielder Weston Lynott before senior left fielder Major Brown beat out an infield single with Gallagher tying the game on a throwing error. Senior shortstop Jaidon Carter then loaded the bases with another infield hit and after a sacrifice fly from senior Nolan Lynott, a single to left from senior first baseman Jacob Smith made it 4-2.

Later in the inning, freshman third baseman Lucas Witt would have run-scoring double, junior catcher Joe DeYoung would plate senior designated hitter Kenny Hoogerheide with a groundout and Weston Lynott’s single brought in Witt.

“We did a good job; that’s what a coach wants,” said Blume. “That way, it takes the stress off you and the pressure that comes on them. I think it started with the sacrifice bunt we had and all of a sudden…we’re really getting good at the skill game. When you get confidence with skilling, then all of a sudden, it opens a lot of options for you offensively. I thought we did a good job with that, and we continued to do it throughout the game.”

Not only did V.C. bash out 13 hits with eight of the nine starters getting at least a hit or a run batted in, but five pitchers combined to allow five hits, strikeout three and walk one. No V.C. pitcher lasted more than two innings and junior Gavin Murphy, junior Kai Delahanty and Hoogerheide retired nine of the last 11 Artesia hitters including seven straight at one point.

“I loved it,” said Blume. “I thought we did a really good job of pounding the strike zone. We had single-digit innings from pitchers pounding the strike zone. I needed to get those guys work because they’re all tools we’re going to use in our games coming up in the coming weeks.”

Five different players accounted for the hits the Pioneers (8-13 overall) would get and they would not get a runner on base until there was one out in the bottom of the third. Besides the two runs scored, Artesia would not get a runner to third base.

“I just wanted to get them some at-bats,” said Serrano. “We’re playing a really good team with good pitching that we’re going to face if we make the playoffs just like [V.C.].”

The Pioneers visited John Glenn High this past Tuesday and will face the Eagles again on Apr. 27 in the regular season finale while the Defenders (7-11 overall) went to Heritage Christian High this past Tuesday and hosted the Warriors on Apr. 28 before going to St. Anthony High on Friday in another non-league contest.

“It’s a good spot to be [in],” said Blume. “The boys earned it. We played at Whittier [Christian] earlier in the week and both teams played extremely well. Unfortunately, we ended up on the losing side of that game, but yesterday we played with everything on the line.”