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CIF-SS DIV. 6 BASEBALL PLAYOFFS – Norwalk reaches rare destination in opening round victory over Arroyo

May 11, 2023

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter

As the Norwalk High baseball team enjoys one of the program’s best seasons ever, at least in the past 25 years, a postgame altercation with Mid-Cities League nemesis Mayfair High in the final week of the regular season caused head coach William Wenrick to make some unexpected tweaks in his batting lineup as the CIF-Southern Section Division 6 playoffs began last Friday. Because of the suspension of four players, two of whom are at the top of the batting order, there were some uncertainties of how the team would respond against Arroyo High when the two teams met on Norwalk’s field.

But the Lancers, ranked third in the division, responded to all the adversity, and shrugged off some early struggles to post a 9-3 win over the Knights. Coupled with an 11-7 win over Carpinteria High this past Tuesday, the Lancers have advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time since 1999. The win over Arroyo marked the first time Norwalk got out of the first round since that same 1999 season.

 “That’s pretty amazing,” said Wenrick. “It’s a great feeling; it’s a good accomplishment. The boys, as I’ve been saying, have been working hard all year. We had to go win league; it’s nice that we went undefeated. Now, we’re in the second part of our goal, and that’s to win [a CIF] championship.”

The new look lineup saw senior right fielder Kevin Carrillo in the top spot with senior left fielder Richard Guzman batting second and other players moving up a few spots. Still, the Lancers pounded out a dozen hits and rallied from a brief 2-0 first inning deficit, beginning with junior first baseman Joseph Davis doubling home senior shortstop Gabriel Cancino with two outs in the bottom of the inning. Norwalk added two more in the second inning and three in the third as it was beginning to get its groove back that saw them win 21 regular season games and breeze through 15 league contests without a blemish while allowing 14 runs in those games with nine shutouts.

“After the incident, we played that Friday,” said Wenrick. “So, we kind of were able to piece some stuff together. At least the kids got some sort of feeling going into today’s game and it showed.”

In the bottom of the second with the bases loaded, Guzman reached on a fielder’s choice as freshman third baseman Sebastian Galindo tied the game. Cancino would follow with a single to the left field gap to plate junior second baseman Juan Bustamante for the eventual game-winner.

One inning later with two outs and a pair of runners on base, Bustamante singled to right to bring in senior catcher Steven Martinez. Then on a 1-1 count, Carrillo’s infield hit loaded the bases for Guzman, who plated Galindo with a single. Bustamante then came home on a wild pitch to make a 6-2 contest. After a scoreless fourth, the Lancers added more insurance with three in the fifth as Guzman had a run-scoring double and Cancino had a sacrifice fly, scoring Bustamante. Guzman later scored on Arroyo’s only error.

“They just came through today,” said Wenrick. “When I was looking there and I saw Sebastian, being a freshman…then Juan hitting there too. They just put the ball in play.”

Senior Kaleb Nakano got the start on the hill and after throwing 31 pitches in the first inning, he settled down a bit to throw 10 pitches in a perfect second inning. Arroyo would leave runners at second and third with two outs in the fourth and after Nakano gave up a hit and a run in the in the fifth, he was replaced by senior Angel Rudy Gonzalez with two outs in the frame. All Gonzalez did was retire the first six he faced and seven of eight while striking out three. Nakano also struck out three and scattered five hits in collecting his eighth victory opposite three losses.

“That’s how he’s been his whole career here since he’s been a sophomore,” said Wenrick. “He’s just got great mound presence, he knows how to shake stuff off, he doesn’t let an umpire affect him, he doesn’t whine or complain or cry when things aren’t going his way. He just goes out and goes to work.”

The top four of the batting lineup went a combined six for 14 with six runs driven in while Galindo, in the eighth spot, scored three times and Bustamante, in the ninth spot, had three hits.

“That was the toughest part; losing [senior shortstop] Caden [Barnhill] because even though he’s not our best bat, him and [senior center fielder] Randy [Martinez] get on base and can steal bases,” said Wenrick. “They make stuff happen. They get hit by pitches, they make guys rush and make errors.

“For me, the biggest piece coming into today was who was going to leadoff,” he continued. “At [the second spot] Ricardo has played for us for a while, so I knew what Ricardo could do. He’s been a three-year letterman, so I wasn’t too worried about that. But finding somebody at the leadoff spot was tough. So, we just went with Kevin, the guy who has been piecing the ball pretty good for us.”

The Lancers will take their 23-4 record into Friday’s home game against Hesperia Christian High. The Patriots are ranked sixth in the division and winners of the Cross Valley League with a record of 16-2. The two losses came to Grace Brethren High, 1-0, in the season opener and to Excelsior Charter High, 6-4, on Apr. 6 in league action. Hesperia Christian is riding a nine-game winning streak after defeating Lakeside High 6-5 this past Tuesday.

The winner of this quarterfinal contest will face either second ranked Campbell Hall High or San Marino High in one semifinal game on Tuesday. Norwalk would be on the road to either team.