On the day of the Mt. Baldy League championship two weeks later, Joe Marcos was afraid the Don Lugo High School baseball team’s 16-3 pasting of Chino on April 25 may have done its league title hopes more harm than good.
“I told them right after the game,” the Don Lugo coach said. “Don’t expect this to happen when we play them again.”
When they played again on Wednesday, it didn’t happen again but Don Lugo showed plenty of mental fortitude in grinding out a 3-1 win over Chino in a winner-take-all showdown for the league championship.
Don Lugo senior Brett Early won the pitchers’ duel with Chino’s Michael Reina, allowing one run on seven hits in a complete game that included a combined total of 19 runners stranded between the teams.
The only two league losses for Chino (19-6, 10-2) came at the hands of Don Lugo (19-5, 11-1). The Conquistadores’ lone blemish was an 8-7 loss March 14 to defending league champion Colony, in which they gave up a seven-run lead.
Still drenched from the Gatorade shower, Marcos spoke of Don Lugo being a play away from last year’s league championship but for a dropped fly ball against Colony. There were plenty of situations in which one play could have turned Wednesday’s game, which was tied at 1 entering the fourth inning. Don Lugo left the bases loaded three consecutive frames, ending with the fourth inning, where the Conquistadores mustered one important run on a sacrifice fly by Christian Kelley.
After Don Lugo scored an unearned run in the first inning, the bases were loaded with one out in the second, with no outs in the third and one out in the fourth. Don Lugo leadoff hitter Joseph Ryan, who scored on an error by the shortstop in the first inning, was the only runner to cross the plate during the torrid stretch, tagging up to score from third on Kelley’s sacrifice fly to put the Conquistadores ahead, 2-1 in the fourth.
Reina, who allowed three runs — two earned — on eight hits with eight strikeouts and three walks, escaped multiple jams but the Cowboys didn’t score after a second-inning RBI single by Daniel Sanchez, who went 3 for 3.
Early escaped a few jams himself, including runners on the corners with one out in the sixth inning and Don Lugo clinging to a one-run lead. Early induced a fly-out to right field and a fielder’s choice to end the threat.
“These are the ones you remember, the close ones,” Early said. “I told them today that if they could score some runs, I could do it on the mound.”
Don Lugo rode the momentum of Early escaping the sixth-inning threat by mounting a two-out charge in the seventh that turned into an insurance run. Makaz Herrera, who was 2 for 4, belted a double into the right-center field gap and No. 9 hitter Andrew Hernandez, who was 2 for 3, followed with a two-out RBI single that sliced into right-center.
“We knew it was going to be a game of momentum swings and we did have the momentum on our side at times,” Chino coach Gary Libby said. “I think we learned a lot the first time we played them about how to pitch them and how mot to pitch them. But they obviously knew how to pitch us too.”
Libby is optimistic Chino will recover in time for the playoffs, where the Cowboys made a run to the Division 4 quarterfinals last season. Don Lugo narrowly missed a quarterfinal matchup with Chino last year, losing in the second round. Marcos, for one, is probably glad to have the Cowboys off the schedule for now.
“I knew they were going to play us tough this time around,” Marcos said. “We had a good day the first time and they had a bad day and anytime that happens, they’re going to come in here ticked off the next chance they get.”