By Miguel A. Melendez, Staff Writer
LANCASTER — It’s hard to believe that as much success as Alhambra High School baseball coach Steve Gewecke has had in his 17 seasons with the program that only now the Moors are enjoying their best year yet.
Time to start believing.
For the first time since 1948, Alhambra is headed back to the semifinals after a 4-2 quarterfinals victory over Lancaster on Friday afternoon in the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 playoffs.
Alhambra (23-3) on Tuesday will face Beckman, which beat Los Altos, 2-1. The Moors likely will host the game at Moor Field since they’ve had only one home playoff game to Beckman’s two home playoff games, but that won’t be determined until the playoff brackets are updated over the weekend.
Regardless, Alhambra’s ecstatic about accomplishing the seemingly elusive feat.
“I don’t know if it’s quite hit yet,” said Gewecke, who for the first time as a head coach reaches the semifinals. “It’s amazing how many people are calling and texting. So many ex players have talked about how they’ll be there on Tuesday. It’s been a real fun bus ride so far.”
Gewecke reached the semifinals in 1995 as an assistant at Mountain View, and this quarterfinals appearance was Alhambra’s first since 1987.
The 150-mile round trip to Lancaster wasn’t ideal, much less the weather conditions that saw 30 mph winds for most of the game. Those obstacles, however, proved to be mere speed bumps for Alhambra (23-3), which again turned to sophomore Marco Briones to keep the magic going, and again he was brilliant.
The left-hander, coming off a near-perfect game in the second round before it was broken up in the seventh, was poised and maintained composure in pressure moments despite a boisterous standing-room only crowd letting him hear it as host Lancaster (17-12) made a valiant effort to break him, but to no avail.
CLICK ON THREAD TO CONTINUE READING ALL THREE STORIES
Alhambra, the eight-time defending Almont League champion, put on a hitting clinic in the first and scored all the runs it would need. Briones took care of the rest with a little help from the defense behind and in front of him.
But first Alhambra set the tone with three key runs in the first thanks to a mix of aggressive hitting and patience at the plate.
Alhambra’s Jonah Lybarger left off with a single to right on an 0-2 pitch. He advanced to second on Andrew Arroyo’s sacrifice bunt. Juan Crespo delivered on a 1-1 pitch for an infield single to drive in Lybarger for the early 1-0 lead. Juan Morales proved that patience pays off as he drew a full-count walk before scoring on Jeremy Duran’s RBI single off the first pitch. Chuy Lopez drove his first of two runs when he connected on an RBI single on a full count to give the Moors a three-run cushion while giving Lancaster an early uphill battle.
“The fact they came out and posted three in the first that puts us in comeback mode,” said Lancaster coach Tony Holiday, whose Eagles scored their first run in the second on two Alhambra errors.
Briones picked up right where he left off last week, striking out the side in the first. He made 101 pitches (68 for strikes) and gave up two earned runs on six hits and one walk while going the distance. He struck out seven.
“He bent but he didn’t break,” said Holiday of Briones. “It seemed as though when his back was against the wall he buckled down and got a little tougher. He has the makings of a very, very, very good pitcher.”
Alhambra’s solid defensive plays started in the third when catcher Brandon Morales on the pitch out fired a throw to first baseman Juan Morales, who then threw to second baseman Andrew Arroyo to get Warren Wass out at second after drawing a full-count walk.
Juan Crespo made a running catch at center in the fourth but the biggest heads up play came in the sixth.
Lancaster’s Ryan Barker lef off with a double to left field. Briones bounced back with two quick outs before Curtis Summers drove in Barker to make it 4-2. Cody Pope came up to the plate and faced a 3-1 count with Summers at first. Briones then delivered a strike, but the call came on a delay from the umpire who had been calling it in such manner the entire game. But Summers, not seeing the strike-call motion, took off to second. That’s when Brandon Morales, the catcher, fired a throw to Arroyo at second for the third out to end the momentum.
“It was definitely a momentum changer,” Holiday said. “The umpire was extremely slow on his strike call and he wasn’t vocal. So there’s no excuse to that. Our runner should have waited but he assumed he had called it a ball because he didn’t see a gesture. It’s unfortunate but on the flip side we have to do a better jof of knowing what’s going on.”
Lybarger, the right fielder, knew getting out of that inning unscathed was key.
“That was big because they were starting to get some momentum and that stopped it,” Lybarger said. “It was a big play by Andrew too because he had his head up and went over to cover second base.”
TEMPLE CITY 6, GRANITE HILLS 2
From Staff Reports
APPLE VALLEY — The bats came alive early for the Temple City High School baseball team as Ben Arrue culminated a big second inning with a grand slam to lead the Rams to a 6-2 victory over Granite Hills on Friday afternoon in the quarterfinals of the CIF-Southern Section Division 4 playoffs.
Temple City (23-3-1) will play the North Torrance-St. Bonaventure winner in next week’s semifinals. It’s the Rams’ first semifinals apperance since losing to Bishop Amat in 2007.
Temple City entered its game knowing it would face a hard-hitting team in Granite Hills (22-6), but it was the Rams that put on a hitting clinic early to build a lead they would not relinquish and Calvin Copping took care of the rest on the mound. He pitched five scoreless innings before giving up a run in the sixth. He struck out six and Kyle Starling came in relief in the seventh. Copping and Starling battled rough wind conditions, so much so that Temple City coach Barry Bacon said the feedback from the mound was that the wind was pushing them off it.
Copping, however got the kind of run support any pitcher would want, and that it came early in the game was all the better.
Corey Copping led off with a double and Calvin Copping drew a walk to put runners on first and third. Benji Sanderson hit a grounder on an 0-2 pitch but reached first safely on an error to load the bases. The stage was set for Arrue who on the first pitch crushed it to left field to give the Rams a 4-0 lead.
In the third, Arrue was at it again with an RBI single. He finished 2 for 4 with five RBIs.
“It’s a good quality win on the road in a tough environment,” Bacon said. “We swung the bat really well today. It was a full team effort.”
Defensively the Rams also helped their cause by turning two double plays, including the latter one that ended the game.
MONROVIA 1, JURUPA VALLEY 0
By Nathan Cambridge, Correspondent
MONROVIA- Friday was Monrovia pitcher Joe Mata’s birthday and he celebrated by throwing a one-hitter to shutout visiting Jurupa Valley 1-0 and advance the Wildcats to the CIF-SS Division 4 baseball semifinals.
“I just gave myself a little birthday present,” Mata said.
The Wildcat junior pitched a masterpiece for Monrovia (20-5) against Jurupa Valley, who came into the quarterfinal match-up riding a 20-game winning streak including going undefeated in the Sunkist League.
“(Mata) was throwing the ball where he wanted to today,” Monrovia co-coach Dave Moore said, “He was moving it in, moving it out. His curveball was dynamic today. He just kept the ball around the strike zone. When you are successful that is what you have to do. He did it today.”
Mata (9-2) had nine strikeouts, including two in each of the first three innings, and walked one. In total, the left-hander threw 97 pitches and consistently pounded the strike zone working both sides of the plate while regularly getting his curveball over for called-strikes.
“We haven’t faced too many lefties this year and, I’ll tell you what, that kid, he was on,” Jurupa Valley coach Chuck Armenta said, “He had our number at the plate. He did a super job. He kept us off-balance.”
The Jaguars gave Mata and his Wildcat teammates a birthday present of their own in the form of two seventh-inning errors that allowed Monrovia to score the winning run without getting a hit.
“It wouldn’t have happened in the seventh inning if we didn’t get an absolutely masterful job by Joe Mata on the mound,” Moore said.
With one out, Nick Carino hit a pop-up that second baseman Giovanni Lopez dropped allowing the sophomore to reach second. Reed Miller followed with a sacrifice bunt that advanced pinch-runner Erik Cox to third. Senior Justin Jones then hit a hard ground ball to Jaguar third baseman Merrick Patito who first bobbled the ball and then made a poor throw to first that allowed Jones reach and Cox to cross home plate giving Monrovia the win.
“I just ran my hardest to first base. Even though I’m full-grown, I just ran my hardest and hopefully I beat out the throw on that play, which I did, and I won the game. It feels good,” Jones said.
Jurupa Valley (23-4) got their lone hit in the second inning, a two-out single to right field by Josh Gonzalez. That hit allowed Daniel Andreade, who had reached on a Monrovia infield error, to get to third base. However, Mata then struck Lopez out looking to end the Jaguars only real scoring threat of the contest.
“I just went out there and kept throwing strikes. That was my main focus was to throw strikes. That’s all,” Mata said.
Mata only allowed one other baserunner the rest of the game on a sixth-inning walk issued to David Rios, who he picked off first base two batters later to end the inning.
Monrovia struggled to get a hit to cash in on several scoring chances. After the Wildcats stranded two in the third inning, they then loaded the bases with no outs in the fourth inning to chase starting pitcher Hector Lujan, but Martin Mercado (6-2) took over and got the Jaguars out of the jam. He first struck out Tony Shue, then Carino was called out after making contact with his bunt in fair territory, and finally Mercado got Miller to pop out.
“We’re going to take this game and move on,” Jones said, “So we’re not going to get big-headed or nothing. We’re just going to move on. We’ve got a CIF to win.”
Monrovia will play next in the semifinals on Tuesday against the winner of the quarterfinal match-up of Palm Desert, ranked #1 in division 4, at Savanna. Tuesday’s home team will be determined by a coin flip today at 11 a.m.