By Fred J. Robledo, Staff Writer
LA PUENTE – When La Salle High School’s Bowdien Derby struck out Andrew Medina to end Tuesday’s game with Bishop Amat’s tying and game-winning runners in scoring position, La Salle coach Harry Agajanian’s face was a picture of relief.
La Salle overcame a five-run deficit to beat Bishop Amat 7-6 for its first win over Amat in school history.
Agajanian made the risky decision of starting junior pitcher Austin Wallis instead of his senior ace Derby, especially with Amat sending out left-hander Daniel Zamora.
But the move paid off.
With the exception of giving up five runs in the second inning, Wallis was solid while La Salle battled back before giving way to Derby to get the final two outs in the seventh.
“I thought throwing Wallis we could get them off-balance,” Agajanian said. “They’re a good fastball-hitting team and Derby is a good fastball pitcher. That’s why we thought we would mix it up a little and throw Austin at them. He has a pretty live fastball, too. It’s not 90 (mph), but he’s got some good off-speed that keeps you off-balance. I think it worked.”
Since Amat entered the Del Rey League in 2007 it has won five consecutive league titles. Tuesday’s loss was just its second defeat in more than 70 league games since ’07.
La Salle (14-6-1, 6-1) can take Tuesday’s big win a step further when it faces Amat (14-8, 8-1) for the third and final time in the regular season on Friday at Citrus College.
La Salle has played two fewer games than Amat in league play, but both have only one loss. The winner will have the inside track toward the title, and La Salle is in a good spot with Derby set to go.
“It would be sweet,” Agajanian said of the possibility of beating Amat again. “They beat Derby in our first meeting (March 23), so we’re not going in with the expectation of it’s a lock or anything. It’s baseball and they’re very good. We have to go in, make our pitches, hope Derby’s on and keep swinging the bat like we did today.”
For Bishop Amat, the top-ranked team in CIF-SS Division 4, the loss was unsettling.
After Bryan Menendez drove in a pair of runs, Adam Alcantara followed with a bases-loaded triple to clear the bases and give Amat a 5-0 lead in the second inning.
But La Salle countered by scoring five runs, all with two outs, to tie the game in the third at 5-5.
After Zamora struck out the first two batters in the inning Noeh Martinez, who went 3 for 4, singled, stole second and scored on Jordan Rodgers’ infield single to make it 5-1.
After Zamora hit Derby to put a second runner on base he appeared to get an inning-ending ground ball to short, but it was bobbled for an error. La Salle made Amat pay with four unearned runs courtesy of Antonio Ruiz’s single that drove in two, and Michael Pedote’s RBI single that brought in the game-tying run.
Amat wasn’t done with the miscues.
After Derby singled to lead off the fifth, Chris Williams’ fly ball to left was dropped for an error. After Antonio Ruiz’s bunt single loaded the bases, Derby scored on a wild pitch and David Sanchez’s infield single scored Williams for a two-run lead.
“For us to squander a 5-0 lead with Zamora on (the mound), that’s not all right,” Amat coach Andy Nieto said. “That’s a formula and recipe for being eliminated in the first round (of the playoffs).
“But you have to give them credit. It was a great job on their part for taking advantage of the extra opportunities that we gave them.”
Nieto then turned his attention to Friday’s game that ultimately could decide the league title.
“We’ve got to lick our wounds,” Nieto said. “Our players should be hurting and should be wounded and deserve to be. But we got a find a way to pick ourselves up from this and get back to work.”