By Miguel A. Melendez, Staff Writer
ARCADIA – Long after the final pitch and well after the final team huddle, most of the Arcadia High School baseball players sat in silence in the dugout with blank stares.
Five others were in the outfield, stunned by how the final two weeks transpired, an Apaches season filled with promise that came to a screeching halt with a 3-2 loss to Santa Barbara on Tuesday in the wild-card round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 playoffs.
There were no words needed to express their disappointment, and Arcadia coach Nick Lemas all but followed suit when trying to dissect where it all went wrong, not just in the playoffs but in the final two weeks of the season that saw the Apaches (19-8) go from title contenders after opening league play with 10 consecutive wins to a team in search of its identity before stumbling to a five-game losing streak.
“That’s the most games we’ve lost in a long time,” Lemas said. “And it was all done in a two-week span.”
In that span, Arcadia had its 41-game Pacific League winning streak snapped in a rare loss at home and lost its chance to clinch a share of the league title with a loss to rival Crescenta Valley in the final game of the regular season.
In the end, the Apaches could only muster six runs in 35 innings in five games. Arcadia’s funk continued well into Tuesday as it scattered seven hits and went 1 for 9 with runners on base.
“We’re in a team slump,” said a somber Lemas. “We needed to make plays and we didn’t. It’s been that way for two weeks.”
It should be pointed out that in Arcadia’s five-game span the Apaches have faced formidable pitching, and it was no different against Santa Barbara (16-13), which sent Kenny Crawford to the mound. He needed only 78 pitches (52 for strikes) to go the distance. He struck out two and allowed two earned runs on seven hits.
But consecutive errors in the sixth may have been too much for the Apaches to recover from.
Max St. John led off with a single between the shortstop-third base gap. Steve Hirschberg came in as the courtesy runner and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt. But the ball was mishandled, allowing Toby Minehan to reach first safely. Jason Jimenez also showed bunt and got the sacrifice to advance the runners, but the ball again was mishandled, loading the bases with no outs.
Connor McManigal scored Hirschberg on a sacrifice fly to center, giving the Dons a 3-1 lead they would not relinquish.
Erik Trask got out of the bases-loaded jam and got an Arcadia rally started in the sixth when he led off with a double on the first pitch. He reached third on a groundout and Gary Huang drove him in on a groundout to pull the Apaches within 3-2. Brandon Benson then singled to right and stole second, but was left stranded when Troy Resch grounded out.
“They made the plays, got the hits and did what they had to do to come down here to beat us and we didn’t,” Lemas said.
Arcadia took a 1-0 lead in the third. Darren Kerfoot got it started when he singled up the middle on the first pitch. He stole second and advanced to third on a David Dominguez infield single to put runners on the corners with no outs. Drew Klein grounded into a double play, but Kerfoot was able to score.
Arcadia got into some trouble in the fourth after John Brontsema on a 1-1 count connected for a double to the right-center field gap. He then advanced to third on an Andrew Cordiero wild pitch before Michael Day drew a four-pitch walk, bringing up Zach Torres with no outs. The first out came shortly after when Torres was called for interference.
But then St. John connected on the first pitch for a single to shallow right, scoring Brontsema to tie the game at 1-1. That was enough to knock out Cordiero from the game.
Trask then came into the game and struck out the first batter he faced on three pitches and got the next batter to fly out to right to end the threat, leaving two runners stranded.
Santa Barbara took a 2-1 lead in the fifth when Connor McManigal, who led off with a triple, scored on a Michael Day sacrifice fly.
When Santa Barbara walked to their chartered bus, several players were mesmerized at the decorated wall that listed Arcadia’s impressive feats through its history. They pointed to the asterisks in the 2010 and 2011 seasons when the Apaches went undefeated in league.
Impressed, they high-fived knowing they knocked out a team that had accomplished so much and certainly had bigger aspirations than a wild-card game appearance.