By Keith Lair, Staff Writer
GLENDORA – Bowdien Derby was able to turn a corner on the Laguna Beach High School baseball team.
The La Salle senior pitcher faced a first-and-third situation in the opening inning of the Thursday afternoon’s CIF-Southern Section Division 4 first-round playoff game at Citrus College.
Derby got back-to-back strikeouts to end the threat.
The senior then had three consecutive at-bats with runners on the corners. He had a base hit, walk and a ground out.
But stopping the Breakers, the third-place finisher from the Orange Coast League, and getting the game’s first RBI were the two important corner shots that Derby made in a 6-2 victory.
“When you’ve got a leadoff guy getting on and the second guy can bunt for a hit or sacrifice him over, you’ve got runners in scoring position right there,” Derby said. “My guys are doing their job. I’ve got to come through for my team, too.”
The top four batters for the Del Rey League champions and tournament’s No. 2 seed got on base 11 times in 16 tries.
“We have a lineup that if we throw names on a board, however they land, that could be our lineup,” La Salle coach Harry Agajanian said. “We feel that strongly about our whole lineup.”
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The Lancers (19-7-1) scored three runs in that first inning. Leadoff hitter Noeh Martinez singled to shallow right field and stole second base. Sophomore Jordan Rodgers laid down the first of two bunt singles, this one down the third-base line that barely stayed fair.
“We are just trying to do the little things right,” Rodgers said. “Everyone did a great job.”
That brought up Derby.
“I knew coming in they weren’t going to give me anything good,” he said. “I was not going to be picky and I threw the barrel at it and it went the other way.”
He punched a low Jackson Rees first pitch over third baseman Adam Rodner’s head to make it 1-0. David Sanchez walked and Chris Williams fielder’s choice made it 2-0. A deep flyout by Antonio Ruiz gave the Lancers a relatively comfortable lead.
Laguna Beach appeared to threaten in the first inning. Robbie McInerny singled just out of the reach of second baseman Austin Wallis and Grant Wilhelm sacrificed him to second base. Larry Stewart singled off of Derby’s glove and the Breakers had cleanup hitter Blake Hester at the plate. But he looked at a fastball strike and Steven Harrison went down swinging to end the threat.
“I knew they are a good fastball-hitting team,” Derby said. “I knew I was going to have to hit my spots. In the first inning, I really didn’t do that.
“But it gets to the point where you have to take a step back, take deep breath and suck it up here. This is it. This could be the difference (in the) game right here.”
Laguna Beach coach Mike Bair said the Breakers’ golden moment quickly disappeared.
“We had the middle of our lineup up,” he said. “It was the guys who have been clutch all season and they just couldn’t do it. That was tough.”
Derby then retired 14 consecutive batters. By the time pinch hitter Santi Pierini singled in the fifth, it was 5-0.
Derby would not have had the stretch going without stellar defensive play. Right fielder Rodgers, who is Bowdien’s cousin, made a spectacular catch of a Stewart fly ball that would have easily gone for extra bases. He made a running diving catch, showed he still had the ball after his flop and then crumpled to the ground in pain.
“I got right to it,” Rodgers said. “I saw it off the bat and started that run.”
Center fielder Martinez helped him return to his position. He did not miss a play.
La Salle scored once each in the second, fourth and fifth innings. Martinez, Rodgers and Ruiz all had two hits. The bottom of the Lancers’ lineup had two hits, both from Ruiz, including a double, and there were three walks.
“We just have to get everybody to do that,” Agajanian said of more hits from the bottom of the lineup. “We need to get the other guys to get going.”
Laguna Beach broke up the shutout in the sixth. Wilhelm singled up the middle and Stewart got on base with an error. With two outs, Harrison hit a Derby fastball off the top of the left-center field fence for two runs.
Wallis pitched the seventh because, Agajanian said, he needed work. Derby struck out seven and gave up five hits.