East County Sports

Scotties, Hillers know to walk it off


East County Sports staff report

LA MESA (5-18-2019) – When ballclubs such as ancient rivals Grossmont and Helix high schools play each other as often as they do, both tend to learn identical yet important lessons.

However, this latest result is simply incredulous after both the Foothillers and Highlanders, literally, walked their way to CIF playoff victories on Friday (May 17).

For Grossmont, it was second baseman Brodie Romero garnering a bases-loaded walk to walk-off visiting St. Augustine, 3-2.

“We can’t get complacent though,” Grossmont head coach Jordan Abruzzo said. “I’m really proud of the way we have competed so far but we still have work to do.”

Meanwhile, Helix cleanup hitter Carlos Oquita also worked a walk with the bases filled with Scotties, taking a 2-1 verdict over Scripps Ranch.

“Really proud of the way we attacked adversity,” Helix head coach Cole Holland said. “We overcame a couple of coaching mistakes today. ”

GROSSMONT 3, ST. AUGUSTINE 2: At Gizona FIeld, the Foothillers earned two chances to again defend their CIF baseball crown, advancing to the winner’s bracket final of the Division I championship after the top-seeded Foothillers the Saints.

Grossmont (17-13 overall) will await for Saturday’s winner between the Saints and Granite Hills to determine the bracket champion. The Hillers have two chances during the double-elimination phase, starting Tuesday at 3:30 p.m., with an “if neccassary” playback final slated for Thursday.

St. Augustine (18-13-1) was seeking to avenge a 2017 CIF loss at home to the Hillers, but were short- circuited by Grossmont starting pitcher Jaden Wilcox.

Wilcox yielded just a run on four hits, striking out four over his six innings. However, when the Saints moved even with a run in the seventh, it was Jack Hyde who entered from the bullpen to collect the pitching victory, despite allowing a game-tying, two-out double to No. 9 hitter Xavier Franco.

Grossmont bailed out Hyde when Anthony Mata led off by getting plunked by a pitch. The Saints then Summoned a relief pitcher, but then he also hit Brandon Smith. An out later, Zakary Farris was the third Hiller to get nailed — talk about a “hit” parade, as pinch0runner Brody Schicker moved to third base.

Romero stepped into the box, taking a called strike. But the next four offerings missed the mark, giving the junior his second RBI on the afternoon.

“During the at-bat, I was feeling a little nervous, but in the outcome of the game, I was just doing my part to help win another game for us,” Romero said.

Romero collected his first RBI when Grossmont opened the scoring in the third.

Smith stroked a lead single, later stealing second base. However, two strikeouts kept him on the field until Romero hammered a hard ground ball past the third baseman.

Both sides tallied once in both the sixth and seventh.

The Saints got even on a run-scoring single by Fisher Pyatt. Grossmont re-claimed the lead on a home run to lefty by cleanup hitter Danny Yanez.
“Keoni (Valdez) had just gotten robbed of a homer in right before my at-bat and it felt like we had lost a huge opportunity,” Yanez said. “I went up to bat sitting on a fastball in, I got it and was able to put a barrel on it.”
However, St. Augustine rallied back again on Franco’s double before its bullpen imploded. The Hillers only collected four base hits, but were greatly aided by three walks and three hit batsmen.

“The key today was our pitching and defense,” Abruzzo said.
“Jaden pounded the zone and Brodie Romero made two game-saving plays.”

HELIX 2, SCRIPPS RANCH 1: At La Mesa, It’s called “station-to-station” baseball, taking one base at a time to score.

For the Helix Highlanders, they used the strategy to the extreme, plating single runs in the sixth and seventh innings to gain a 2-1 walk-off decision over  visiting Scripps Ranch in the CIF Division I playoffs.

The victory wasn’t the way any head coach would plan, but after Scotties cleanup hitter Carlos Oquita fouled off a pair of pitches before working the count for a bases-loaded, RBI walk to end it, no one was complaining.

“Usually you expect to walk it off on a hit but on a walk feels just as good especially in playoffs,” Oquita said. “I feel like we got good momentum going into (Saturday’s) game and we are ready to go.”

One-out singles by No. 9 hitter Ayden Estrada and leadoff batter Alonzo Richardson placed runners on the corners, but Estrada was held at third base on an ensuing ground ball.

“(Scripps’) pitcher was throwing breaking ball most of my at-bats so I sat slider until I got my pitch,” Richardson said. “Just a blessing to be in the Open Division playoffs. Highlanders are going to take advantage of it.”

That left the Scripps Ranch coaches with the extremely uncomfortable choice of pitching to No. 3 hitter Jordon Thompson or Ortiz. The Falcons elected to intentionally walk Thompson, figuring they had a better chance of a strikeout against the power- hitting Oquita.

However, Oquita displayed great discipline at the plate and swinging only at pitches in the strike zone rather than going for a more-dramatic grand slam.

The run in the sixth also featured a series of one-base plays.

Consecutive first-pitch, bunt singles by Richardson and Smelko were followed by Oquita getting hit by a pitch with one out.
However, in protecting Oquita, Adam Martinez followed by a hard grounder through the right side of the infield to score Richardson and end the shutout bid by Falcons pitcher Will Van Duren,

Meanwhile, Thompson, Helix’ starting pitcher, was forced from the game after 6.2 innings due to the CIF pitch count rule.  He went over the 110-limit while facing his final batter.

“It was a great high school game to play in,” Smelko said. “Jordan Thompson pitched a gem today.

Thomas Caneday (6-1) entered from the bullpen, but the reliever didn’t need to record the final out of the seventh. Instead, on his fourth pitch, Martinez, the catcher, fired the ball to Thomspon, who was now playing third base, to register the final out.

How ironic that Thompson would get the 21st out, yet the pitching win went to Caneday with virtually no work. However, no one was complaining after the Highlanders avoided playoff elimination.

“My curveball was my go-to pitch,” Thompson said. “I was able to throw it for a strike at any point during the at-bat. It was a really great team win that took everyone to contribute.”

Helix (19-12) now needs to sweep four additional ballgames to become section champions. The trek begins Saturday when the second-seeded Scotties gain a home-field rematch with La Costa Canyon.

“We are excited to play La Costa,” Smelko said. “They are a never-say-die team and we have to play one pitch, one out, one inning at a time.”

Scripps Ranch (18-12-1) scored in the second on a leadoff home run by third baseman Steven Lancia.

“You have to give a lot of credit to their pitcher, Will Van Duren,” Smelko said. “He got stronger as the game went on and just competed.
Carlos Oquita took a really good pitch for ball four. He worked the count, fouled a couple off, and drew a walk. It was a great at-bat.”

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