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BORAS BASEBALL CLASSIC – La Mirada unable to back up Armijo’s early pitching performance, loses another one-run game

April 10, 2024

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on X

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO-Following a heart-breaking 11-inning loss to Mater Dei High in the quarterfinals of the Boras Baseball Classic, La Mirada High was back on the field 18 hours later, hoping to knock off a formidable Maranatha High squad. But La Mirada’s biggest bugaboo that cost the team a chance to knock off the eventual tournament champion, repeated itself against the Minutemen.

With six outs to go before picking up a victory, La Mirada’s defense faltered in the top of the sixth inning, allowing the third-ranked team in the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 poll to rally for a 3-2 victory last Thursday afternoon at JSerra High. The Matadores bounced back to edge Oaks Christian High 6-5 last Friday to split the four games in one of the most prestigious high school tournaments on the West Coast.

“I thought the guys were loose; they were light,” said La Mirada head coach Jimmy Zurn. “I didn’t necessarily know what to expect. Obviously, it was a tough defeat [last night] and it’s easy to go, ‘aww, we’re not in the championship bracket anymore’. We lost a game that we felt we should have won a couple of times. But again, we were in this position to win tonight.

“Every run [Maranatha] got was just absolutely gift-wrapped for them,” he continued. “The strikeout that gets by our catcher leads to their first run. The guy [in the sixth inning] scores from first base on a ball in the gap because our centerfielder kicks the ball. That can’t happen; that’s something that is very uncharacteristic of us.”

With one out in the top of the fifth inning and the Matadores leading 1-0, freshman pitcher Luke Armijo got Lukas Perez to swing at a third strike. But the ball got past junior catcher Jacob Celiz and allowed Perez to reach base. The miscue proved costly as Matthew Kurkdijan doubled to center on a full count to tie the game.

La Mirada, ranked sixth in Division 1, regained the lead in its half of the inning, but in the sixth with two outs and Zach Strickland on first, Eric Zdunek sent a ball to center that should have kept the runners at second and first respectively. But a booted ball advanced the runners and Jacob Yun followed with a double to the left field gap that should have only tied the game with Zdunek at third.

Other than the defensive miscues, the Matadores dominated the game, especially with Armijo on the mound. In only his second start of the season, the first coming on March 28, he allowed three hits and six baserunners through the first four innings, none of which got to second base. Celiz would throw out two of those runners attempting to steal second and two others would be forced at second on a fielder’s choice. Through the first four innings, Armijo had thrown 53 pitches and would finish the game going six innings, allowing seven hits and striking out four on 89 pitches.

“Luke is a very, very special young man,” said Zurn. “He is a freshman; I believe he was up to 89 [miles per hour] today on our gun. I thought his changeup was keeping them really off-balanced. He pitched well enough to win. What I’m going to do this weekend when this tournament is over is the ability to…with the last two nights, we left [our starter] in a little bit too long. Those are things that I will look at and correct.

“They were hits,” he later said. “But we still have to do a couple of things differently that just limit bases, and being the one in charge of the outfield, our outfield didn’t do a good job today for our standard. Like I’ve said, this team can play and compete with anybody in the country. This is a great tournament; Maranatha is a great team. But sometimes you have to start looking at…we have to find a way to finish games. The last two days, we were in a position to win both games and we didn’t finish.”

In the bottom of the first inning, junior third baseman Maverek Russell reached on an error and stole second but would be stranded there. But in the next inning, Carson Kelly walked freshman second baseman Bear Calvo, who came home on a one-out double from junior center fielder Travis Friend. Two pitches later, senior left fielder Tyler Primanto singled to left. After he stole second, Celiz was unable to advance the runners on a bunt.

La Mirada stranded three runners over the next two innings before getting its second run. With one out, junior shortstop Aiden Aguayo tripled to the right field gap and gave the Matadores a 2-1 lead on a sacrifice fly from senior designated hitter Sebastian DeAvila. After 10 runners were left on the base the night before, including two with none out in the first inning, La Mirada would strand half a dozen against the Minutemen.

“We didn’t get a safety squeeze down,” said Zurn. “Let’s put it that way. We have to be able to execute. We talk about it all the time. We don’t just practice this for nothing. We don’t just practice just to get through things. If we get that safety squeeze down on two pitches that were very, very buntable, it’s 2-0 and now the complexion of the game changes.”

La Mirada, which began the week at 14-5 overall, rallied for two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning against Oaks Christian, marking the fourth one-run game the Matadores have been a part of this season. Of the five losses, three have been by a run, one by two runs and the other by three runs. La Mirada defeated Norwalk High 15-0 this past Tuesday and hosted the Lancers on Apr. 11 to complete that home and home series. The Matadores are scheduled to host the Minutemen on Saturday and West Torrance High on Thursday in preparation for their three-game series against Gahr High in the final week of the season.

“We’re there, and we’ve been on the right side of some good games against some very, very good Division 1 teams,” said Zurn. “Rancho Bernardo was number 12 in the state when we beat them the other day. Again, when you’re playing in these games, the most miniscule mistake is a big mistake, and that’s the Division 1 playoffs. You’re in seven-inning game where the smallest mistake…and your season is over. Those are things that we have to learn from these moments so it doesn’t happen to us down the road.”