By Fred J. Robledo, Staff Writer
Bonita High School baseball coach John Knott worried how his team would respond in a trap game after beating nationally ranked Bishop Amat in Monday’s area showdown at Mt. San Antonio College. He worried how junior pitcher Justin Garza would respond in a Hacienda League rematch for sole possession of first against Diamond Bar’s Kenny Mathews, the Cal State Fullerton-bound lefty who he outdueled in an eye-opening victory in their previous meeting.
But like everyone else, Knott’s learning that Garza isn’t fazed by anything, nor are the rest of his guys.
All Knott’s worries were put to rest after Bonita jumped on Diamond Bar for three runs in the first, then leaned on Garza, who was nearly perfect leading the Bearcats to a 5-1 victory, losing a shutout after giving up a two-out run in the seventh. (To continue click thread).
“I thought he (Garza) was stellar,” Knott said. “He set the pace for us in the beginning of the game.”
Garza retired the Brahmas in order in the first, then the Brahmas’ offense went to work, taking advantage of a hit batter and a Brahmas error to jump to a 3-0 lead in the bottom half.
After Mathews hit Bearcats leadoff hitter Justin Row, Matt Gelalich turned what was supposed to be a sacrifice bunt into an infield single, out-racing Mathews to first.
Mathews nearly battled out of it, getting a force at third to get Row on Robert Mier’s sacrifice bunt attempt and a fly out to center.
Still, with two outs and Gelalich on second and Mier on first, Thomas Castro lined a single to left that Brahmas outfielder Jason Kimsey charged hoping to make a play on Gelalich rounding third, but the ball rolled through Kimsey’s legs, allowing Gelalich and Mier to score for a 2-0 lead, with Castro advancing to third on a two-base error. Mark Lindsay singled home Castro to go up 3-0 — a huge cushion for Garza considering he had given up just three earned runs in 42 innings prior to taking the hill.
“We’ll take a base any time we can get one,” Knott said of Diamond Bar’s miscues. “We took advantage of what they gave us.”
Mathews hit four batters in all. He hit Row and Gelalich in the fifth, and both later scored on a Mier single and K.C. Huth fly-out to make it 5-0. Garza, who improved to 9-0 after entering with a 0.40 ERA, made it look easy, battling out of his only tough spot in the fourth after an error and single put runners on first and second with no outs.
Garza responded by picking off the runner at second, then getting a strikeout and ground out to end the inning. Bonita, ranked No. 2 in Division 3, improved to 19-3 and 7-0 in the Hacienda, pulling two games ahead of Diamond Bar (11-10, 6-2) in the loss column.
What’s so surprising about Garza is that he barely pitched last year.
“He’s one pitch at a time, one hitter at a time,” Knott said. “I’ve never coached a kid with this kind of execution. We can almost throw three pitches at any time with him, and he’s got confidence behind it.
“His poise has been incredible. His ratio, his tempo, all the things you would like in the make-up of a great pitcher he has.”
Knott’s only regret is that he didn’t pull Garza in the seventh. Garza gave up a two-out double to Jonathan Munoz, then Victor Telles singled home Munoz for the Brahmas’ only run. Garza allowed six hits and struckout six.
“Even in the last inning where I sent him out after he’s thrown that many pitchers he doesn’t let that affect him,” Knott said. “He doesn’t come out and throw a first pitch ball or walk the next guy, he comes out and pumps out strikes and continues to put the pressure on.
“I know it’s a little disappointing he didn’t throw a shutout, but ask him or our team, it’s not about that, it’s about the win. It’s not about how pretty it looks or how good of a win it is, it’s about getting the win and moving on.”
Mathews went the distance but dropped to 4-3 after giving up seven hits and striking out just four.