By Keith Lair, Staff Writer
PALM DESERT – Top-seeded Palm Desert High School showed its fangs in the desert heat early in Tuesday night’s CIF-Southern Section Division 4 baseball semifinal game.
However, the Aztecs did not strike until the third inning. They got all of their runs in that inning to defeat Monrovia, 3-0, to advance to Saturday’s title game.
“You have to give credit to their pitcher,” Monrovia co-coach Brad Blackmore said. “We’re used to playing tight, low-scoring games, but you have to get something going offensively and it never quite happened.”
The Aztecs will be playing in their third consecutive CIF-SS championship game. The win foiled a Rio Hondo League rematch. The Aztecs will play Temple City at UC Riverside on Saturday night. The third-seeded Rams defeated St. Bonaventure, 2-0.
The Wildcats, a team many considered an underdog to get this far in the playoffs, showed their fangs, too. But the Wildcats could not get that run.
“It’s a very, very, very good team that we were playing,” Blackmore said. “We’ve played nothing but good teams and we’ve found ways to get things done, but we couldn’t get it going.
“We pitched pretty well and played pretty good defense. But at some point you have to break through and we just didn’t get any offense going.”
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Pitcher Brian Serven can take a lot of credit for keeping the Wildcats from scoring.
The junior gave up three hits with four strikeouts and no walks. He threw only 87 pitches.
“I was throwing strikes and I felt pretty good in my groove,” Serven said. “They were swinging and hitting balls to our guys.”
It was the first time Monrovia has been shut out this season.
“We try to play a fast-paced game, get after people and have an inning like that,” Palm Desert coach Darol Salazar said. “It gives our pitcher a chance to throw a lot of strikes.”
Palm Desert (25-8) started things in the opening inning. Jonathan Serven just beat out a hard-hit ball deep in the third-base hole that Nick Carino had to make a tough play to just get and throw to first base. Jonathan Serven got to third base with one out and Brooks Kriske hit a deep ball to right fielder Tony Shue. The throw to catcher Gabe Duran was on the money and the Wildcats were out of the inning.
But the Aztecs, winners of 12 consecutive games, got things done in the third inning.
Chris Drake singled to right field and was sacrificed to second base.
Jonathan Serven, a senior, hit a grounder up the middle that ricocheted off diving shortstop David Perez’s glove. Drake scored.
After a flyout and walk, pitcher Chris Burkholder threw a hanging curveball to clean-up hitter Brian Serven. He took the ball off the left-center field fence to make it 3-0.
“He got to it,” Burkholder said. “We got beat by a good hitting team. We could not get the bats going when we needed it. It was just bad luck.”
Brian Serven said his hit gave the Aztecs breathing room.
“It was a pretty big hit because it gave us that extra lead we needed and extra confidence,” he said. “We did not have to worry as much as with a 1-0 lead.”
Monrovia (20-6) went with sidearm pitcher Brad Felty the rest of the way. The Aztecs twice got runners to third base, both off walks, but did not score. They didn’t have a hit in their final three at-bats.
Monrovia’s best chance to score was in the fifth inning. Burkholder singled and stole second base. With one out, Felty singled to right field.
“We were hoping to throw the first punch and get on them a little bit,” Blackmore said.
“This team we’re playing, if you want to beat them, you have to get two, three runs early to let them know they’re in a ballgame.”
Carino hit a chopping grounder at third baseman John Schuknecht. With Burkholder running home, the senior charged at the ball and threw to catcher Brody Kato to easily get Burkholder at the plate. The Wildcats then hit into another fielder’s choice.
“We had a little look at it in the fifth inning and we didn’t quite get it done,” Blackmore said. “(Brian Serven) did a great job. He throws probably 80 percent of his first pitches for strikes. He kept pounding the strike zone to keep the pressure on us. There was nothing to really work with. We put the ball in play, but we couldn’t really get anything going.”
Joe Mata singled in the first inning and was left at second base.
Perez was the only other Wildcats batter to get on base, when first baseman Drake dropped a light throw from pitcher Serven on a bunt.
But the Wildcats then hit into a double play.
“This was the biggest game we have played this year,” Brian Serven said. “It’s a great feeling to go back to the championship game. It is definitely a sweet feeling.”
Palm Desert defeated Torrance, 9-0, to win the CIF-SS title two years ago. They lost to Bishop Amat, 7-0, in the title game last season.