Pitchers duel: It’s rare when marquee matchups actually live up to the hype. And for the first few moments of Wednesday’s showdown between the Valley’s nos. 1- and 2-ranked teams, it looked like the standing-room only crowd at Mount San Antonio College was in for a real dud.
Just call this one another San Gabriel Valley Classico. It certainly looked that way as Bishop Amat held off South Hills, 4-3, in a battle of the top two baseball teams in the area. Amat’s Paul Paez needed 125 pitches to dispose of the Huskies, who loaded the bases with two outs in the seventh before catcher Cody Doyle took a delayed strike three to end it. Paez finished with a six-hitter and 13 strikeouts. Rio Ruiz was the offensive hero, giving the Lancers a 3-0 lead in the first on a homer to right. South Hills, getting RBIs from Tyler France, Dakota Behr and Richard Rollice, chipped away, and made it 4-3 by the seventh inning on an RBI single by France. But after Christian Ibarra walked to load the bases with two outs, Doyle took strike three to end the game.
On the delayed strike:
“I wanted to go after the umpire in the end, but what does that accomplish,” South Hills coach Kevin Smith said. “He wasn’t purposely trying to screw us, but for whatever reason he thought it was a third strike and we didn’t. But you live with it and move on. I don’t care what the final score was, that was a character-building game for us.”
On Rio Ruiz’s three-run homer
“I’ve been battling the first inning the whole year,” South Hills pitcher Andrew Morales said. “After that I settled down. But one swing of the bat can change the game.” Ruiz was just looking to drive the ball, but found a pitch he could pull. “I knew they weren’t going to give me anything to hit, but he gave me a first-pitch curve ball and I caught it,” Ruiz said. “It was a great game. South Hills did a heck of a job fighting back, but we ended up being the big dogs in the end.”
On the game:
“I really believe the way the game started they felt they were going to blow our doors off, and then we came back and played the game,” Smith said. “Their guy (Paez) can pitch, there’s no doubt about that, but we got (six) hits and nailed his ERA. Like I told our kids, I would rather be over here than over there anytime because of the way we came back under adverse conditions.”
Bishop Amat coach Nieto was not surprised at all that the Huskies didn’t fold. “C’mon, champions don’t roll over,” Nieto said. “Champions don’t quit. I’m sure if you go to their gym you see banners hanging, that’s a trait. Smith’s not going to allow that to happen, he’s a bulldog and his team is a reflection of what he is, which is a tough guy. This game is for tough guys and it was a battle between two tough teams.”