By Miguel A. Melendez, Staff Writer
ALHAMBRA — The only thing hotter than the baking sun on Friday afternoon was Alhambra High School’s Marco Briones.
The sophomore got off to a sizzling start and rode a perfect game into the seventh before finishing with a one-hitter and facing just one batter over the minimum.
Briones being nearly unhittable coupled with clutch hitting in the first paved the way for Alhambra’s 6-0 victory over Carter of Rialto in the opening round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 playoffs.
Briones, a left-hander, needed only 74 pitches to go the distance. He struck out five and had thrown just 50 pitches heading into the seventh. That’s when Carter’s Frankie Sarabia, a senior, connected on an 0-1 pitch for a single to shallow center.
“He showed focus even with a perfect game on the line,” said Carter coach Samuel Lopez, who in his first season led the Lions to the playoffs for the first time in five years.”It was amazing to see.”
The packed crowd at Moor Field showed theirappreciation of Briones’ masterful performance. The frenzy crowd wouldn’t be disappointed asBriones returned the favor by catching a hard line drive with a quick flick of the glove, thenfiring to first baseman Juan Morales to turn the double play. It was the second time Alhambra (20-3) caught a hard line drive. Morales did it in the second inning, the first of many good signs that it would be one of those days for the Moors.
“We made a pretty good team look pretty average offensively,” Alhambra coach Steve Gewecke said. “It’s a testament to (Briones).”
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Briones was the catalyst, and the Moors would score all the runs they would need in the first.
Juan Crespo’s RBI single up the middle drove in Jonah Lybarger, who singled and moved to second on Andrew Arroyo’s perfectly-executed sacrifice bunt that took a soft roll to the mound. Two wild pitches later and Crespo and Morales score to make it 3-0.
Morales in the sixth connected on a 2-2 pitch for a three-run double to deep center, driving in Chance Beal, Arroyo and Crespo, who loaded the bases on an intentional walk.
But the spotlight belonged to Briones, who turned the page from raw talent just months ago to pure dominationwith this defining performance.
“I think that was evident today,” Gewecke said. “What a show. He manned up today, didn’t he? He was just magnificent.”
Briones executed his game plan.
“Just getting ahead,” he said. “My fastball, change up away, 0-2 two-seam fastball was strong and starting on a first-pitch strike was important.”
Lopez could only admire from a distance.
“Hewas spotting up in and out,” Lopez said. “He had command of his curve ball and brought up the change up after he showed the curve ball for a little bit. There was no missing.
“You can’t work the count with a guy throwing so many strikes. We had a few good at-bats but hit right at them. You have to tip your hat at a performance like that.”