The Bishop Amat (La Puente, Calif.)
Lancers are on a roll, winning 19 straight games including a 2-1 victory over El Capitan (Lakeside, Calif.) in the semifinals of the Hard 9 National Classic Wednesday at California State University, Fullerton.
The only team hotter than the Lancers might be the Esperanza (Anaheim, Calif.)
Aztecs, who have won seven in a row in impressive fashion, including a 9-2 triplefest against IMG Academies in the other semifinal game.
The teams will meet for the championship of the Hard 9 National Classic at 7 p.m. tonight at CSU Fullerton. With a 20-2 overall record compared to Esperanza's 14-7 mark, the Lancers would appear to be the favorite to win the title. However the last team to defeat the Lancers was the Aztecs back on March 5 with a 7-5 victory.
"That game could have gone either way," said long-time Esperanza coach Mike Curran. "It was the second game of the season, it went back and forth and we were both throwing three or four pitchers. We were both trying to figure out what we had at that point."
However Curran still likes his team's chances in the final.
"We've won the tournament more than any other school," said Curran, who has a 631-263-4 record with three National Classic championships. "The kids know what to expect in this tournament and that's why we've always played well."
The one team that can tie Esperanza for tournament championships is Bishop Amat, which won back-to-back titles in 2001 and 2002. Esperanza won its last tournament title in 2005.Bishop Amat 2, El Capitan (Lakeside, Calif.) 1
Facing one of the state's top junior pitchers in El Capitan's Troy Conyers
, Bishop Amat coach Andy Nieto knew that his team probably wasn't going to get many opportunities to put runs on the board. So when the opportunity presented itself, his Lancers had to be ready.
That opportunity occurred in the fourth inning. With two outs, Rio Ruiz
walked to bring No. 4 hitter Bernardo Zavala
to the plate. The senior catcher turned on a Conyers fastball and the ball just kept going and going. The ball finally hit midway up the netting in center field, an estimated 425 feet from home plate.
"I was just looking for a good pitch to hit and I got one," said Zavala. "That's the longest recorded home run that I've ever hit."
Gaining the lead was one thing, holding onto it was another. Nieto brought in Ryan Serrato
to do the job.
"He's been our reliever all season long," said Nieto. "The key was his breaking ball. They are good fastball hitters and they'll line up and hit it all day. His breaking ball gave me confidence to pitch them through the backdoor."
Serrato worked out of two jams in the sixth and seventh innings. El Capitan had runners at second and third in the sixth inning with one out, but Serrato struck out the next two batters to retire the side.
In the seventh, El Capitan had a the tying run in scoring position with one out, but again Serrato got a strikeout and induced a fly ball for the final out of the game.
"I just went in there and threw strikes the best I could," said Serrato. "It was disappointing when we didn't make the finals last year. It feels good to make it this time."
Nieto added that the play of Serrato and Zavala helped take the pressure off standout Ruiz, who was 0-for-2 with a run scored.
"Rio is a great player, but he's human and he's not going to have a great game every game," said Nieto. "Having these guys step up eliminates some of that pressure. That pitcher they had throwing today is a really good pitcher. He just made the one mistake."
El Capitan outhit the Lancers 5 to 4, but a potentially huge inning yielded just one run. Curren Facer
doubled to lead off the second and went to third on a groundout. When Elden Whisman
hit a grounder to shortstop, Bishop Amat's Dominique Davis
threw home and caught Facer in a rundown for the second out of the inning.
Whisman scored on Spencer Nielson's
triple, but the next batter struck out to end the inning.
The win was the 19th in a row for the Lancers, who have not lost since dropping their first two games of the season to Palm Desert and Esperanza.Esperanza 9, IMG Academies (Bradenton, Fla.) 2
If you are looking for proof that the Aztecs are hitting the ball well, three triples in the first inning against IMG Academies would be that proof. Esperanza came out swinging in the top of the first with back-to-back triples by Nick Catalano
and Ryan Cooper
and a triple later in the inning by Ryan Aguilar
that helped the Aztecs build a 4-0 first-inning lead.
Catalano was at it again in a three-run fourth inning as he tripled to lead off the frame. Kevin Viers
also had a triple in the inning to drive in two runs and the Aztecs finished with five triples in the game.
The nine-run outburst was an extension of Esperanza's nine-run rally against Clovis West to overcome a 4-0 deficit, however Curran says that the turnaround for the Aztecs goes all the way back to a loss to Cypress early in the month.
"We faced their best pitcher and we scored more runs against him than any team had scored that year," said Curran. "Then the next game we beat Mission Viejo and then we won those two exciting games against El Dorado. But it was that Cypress game where they started believing in themselves."
Since the loss to Cypress on April 5, Esperanza has gone 7-0 to raise its record to 14-7. Included in the streak is an 8-2 win over Mission Viejo and a two-game sweep of rival El Dorado, 6-3 and 6-5, the week prior to the National Classic.
While the offense was bashing eight hits through the first four innings, Esperanza pitcher Scott Mason
was limiting IMG Academies to one hit through four frames with Charles Sheffield's
base hit to center in the fourth the first hit allowed.
IMG scored in the sixth when Brandon Bonilla
and Joe Daru
each doubled. Dan Kennon
singled and scored on Eric Myskowski's
double in the seventh to account for the final run.
In other games, Alemany (Mission Hills, Calif.)
defeated Cypress (Calif.)
3-2 in one consolation semifinal and Chatsworth (Calif.)
topped Valley Christian (San Jose, Calif.)
11-8 in the other consolation semifinal. Corey Sims
drove in all three runs for Alemany with a three-run homer. Meanwhile Chatsworth got a grand slam home run from Ricky Obando
. Chatsworth and Alemany play in the consolation championship at CSU Fullerton at 4:30 p.m. Cypress plays Valley Christian in the 11th place game at 1 p.m. at Esperanza.
In a loser's bracket game, El Dorado (Placentia, Calif.)
topped Notre Dame Prep (Scottsdale, Ariz.)
9-1 and Sunrise Mountain (Peoria, Ariz.)
edged Christian Brothers (Memphis, Tenn.)
9-6. El Dorado meets Sunrise Mountain for 13th place at 4 p.m. at El Dorado. Notre Dame Prep and Christian Brothers meet for 15th place at 4 p.m. at Esperanza.
In a winner's bracket game, Bingham (South Jordan, Utah)
handed St. Francis (Mountain View, Calif.)
its second straight loss, 7-1, while Chaminade (West Hills, Calif.)
topped Clovis West (Fresno, Calif.)
7-4. St. Francis meets Clovis West at 10 a.m. at Esperanza while Bingham takes on Chaminade at 10 a.m. at El Dorado.
The third place game pits IMG Academies vs. El Capitan at 1 p.m. at El Dorado.