Baseball: Monrovia’s Mata proves clutch in seventh.

By Fred J. Robledo, Staff Writer

LA PUENTE – The Monrovia High School baseball team could feel it slipping away in the bottom of the seventh inning against defending champion Bishop Amat in the second round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 4 playoffs Tuesday.

So, the Wildcats turned to the best pitcher they had left, Rio Hondo League Most Valuable Player Joe Mata.

All Mata had to deal with was the bases loaded, no outs and his team clinging to a two-run lead with the top of Amat’s order coming up.

“I know it was a tough situation when my coach put me in there,” Mata said. “I just said trust your defense and throw strikes.”

That’s exactly what he did.

After giving up a groundout that scored a run to cut the lead to one, Mata ended the game with two big strikeouts, the final coming with the bases loaded to preserve a 4-3 victory over the fourth-seeded Lancers. The Wildcats advance to Friday’s quarterfinals against Jurupa Valley, a 6-2 winner over La Habra.

“On that last pitch I was running on adrenaline,” Mata said. “When he swung and missed I just looked for someone to hug.”

It was a victory that doesn’t exactly avenge Monrovia’s loss to Bishop Amat in the 2006 CIF-SS title game, but it was further proof that doing little things can produce big results.

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Monrovia jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the fourth inning and after Amat cut it to 2-1 in the fifth, the Wildcats extended it to 3-1 in the sixth.

Amat trimmed it to 3-2 in the bottom of the sixth, but again, the Wildcats pushed a run across in the seventh to go back up by two.

“When we stick to what we do well, which is throw strikes, catch the ball and get timely hits, we’re a pretty-damn good team,” Monrovia co-coach Brad Blackmore said. “We don’t have the biggest or fastest guys, but we stick with the game plan.

“If you can stay away from big innings against any high school team, you can win a lot of games.”

But it nearly all unraveled in the seventh.

Amat’s Daryl Daniels walked and Bryan Menendez hit a grounder toward second that Blackmore argued should have resulted in a runner’s interference call against Daniels, but everyone was safe.

Michael Hernandez followed with a bunt to submarine pitcher Brad Felty, who started toward third for the force, then changed his mind and threw too late to first.

Bases loaded, no outs.

That’s when Mata came to the rescue.

He got Amat’s Scott Hurst to ground out to second, but that forced in a run to cut the Wildcats’ lead to 4-3, and left the Lancers with runners on second and third.

But Mata got Amat’s Andrew De La Cruz to swing on a nasty curveball for the second out.

After Monrovia intentionally walked Adam Alcantara to load the bases, Mata fell behind 2-0 to cleanup hitter Evan Claproth, but battled back to get Claproth swinging on a 2-2 pitch.

Amat coach Andy Nieto was disappointed the Lancers couldn’t do more with their opportunities in the end.

“We didn’t play well but we were still able to give ourselves a chance to stay in the game,” Nieto said. “Unfortunately you can’t wait until the seventh inning to try and do something.

“The last inning was killer, especially the two strikeouts. It was heartbreaking for our guys but I never questioned our guys’ heart. They battled all year and I’m proud of them. Give Monrovia credit, they’ve been a great team and a well-coached team for the last 10 years. They deserved to win today.”