By Aram Tolegian
Just when it appeared the South Hills High School baseball team was ready to run away with the local spotlight, Joe Gil and Charter Oak slapped the Huskies back to reality.
Gil delivered a two-out hit to the right-center field gap off of Huskies reliever Ty France that scored pinch-runner Alejandro Sanchez from second for a 2-1 Charter Oak win in eight innings on Wednesday afternoon in the Sierra League opener for both teams.
“He started me off with a curve ball and I knew he was going to come back with a fastball and I had to sit and wait for it because he was really bringing the heat,” Gil said. “He (France) got me the first at-bat and I wasn’t going to let it happen again.
“I knew it was in the gap. I was just waiting for him (Sanchez) to get home so we could start celebrating. It was just a great victory. We’re the two best teams in this league, I think. It was just a fight to the end.”
The win improved Charter Oak, this newspaper’s No. 2-ranked team, to 5-1 overall and 1-0 in the Sierra League. South Hills, the area’s No. 1-ranked team after shutting out Bonita last Saturday, fell to 5-1 and 0-1 in league.
The Chargers almost didn’t need Gil’s heroics. Starter Mac Lupton shut out South Hills through six innings, but Chargers head coach Tom Quinley let Lupton start the seventh inning with a 1-0 lead in the game and Michael Duglosl made him pay by leading off with a solo home run to left.
Quinley then turned to Zo Carrillo who pitched the rest of the way to earn the win. Afterward, Quinley felt as though his team took him off the hook for letting Lupton start the seventh.
“I knew Mac didn’t have much left in his tank and I should have put Zo out there to start the seventh, but we took a chance,” Quinley said. “Anytime we came from behind, they usually bail out a coach for making a bad decision.”
South Hills was uncharacteristically sloppy. France, one of the most sure-handed fielders in the area committed two errors at shortstop. The Huskies also couldn’t hit in the clutch, letting an obviously tired Lupton off the hook in the sixth inning after loading the bases with two outs. So after starting league play with so much momentum from winning the Dick’s Sporting Goods Tournament last week, the Huskies now face pressure going into Friday’s rematch at home with Charter Oak.
“We can play a lot better,” South Hills coach Kevin Smith said. “We’re just going to go back to work, re-focus and do the things that made us successful the first five games of the season. And that’s play defense, hit, have a plan, and just come to practice and games with a little better mental outlook.
Charter Oak took a 1-0 lead in the first inning on Jon Reid’s single that scored Travis Santiago. South Hills starter Kevin McKelvey gave up little else the rest of the way, but couldn’t get any support from his bats.
“It’s a big win, I was there on Saturday,” Quinley said in reference to South Hills’ win over Bonita. “That’s a good ball club. It’s a feather in our cap. They’ve got a few guys who can make or break a game, but somehow we kept them in check today. Hopefully, the same thing can happen on Friday.”
The worry for Smith, however, is being able to convince his players to put the Bonita win behind them and start thinking about even bigger things.
“I talked about it right after the (Bonita) game,” Smith said. “I talked about it Monday after practice. I talked about it Tuesday morning in the weight room. We’re 0-0 now and we have to go out and earn a spot to go to the big dance.
“The kids who have been with me for a while understand that. But it is a huge concern of mine.”
South Hills faces arguably the toughest starting task of anybody in the league. The Huskies have a home-and-home matchup against Charter Oak this week, then start next week with a game against Damien.
“Boom, boom, we’re going to find out real quick what we’re made of,” Smith said of his team’s early league schedule. “You wish you could have them at the back end and kind of get into league a little bit. But it is what it is, and you have to play them.”
Elsewhere in the Sierra League this week, Ayala will play rival Chino Hills on Friday. The Huskies may not scare anyone at 4-3, but they’ve scored a league-best 47 runs so far. They’ve also allowed a league-high 20 runs.
South Hills may have only scored 22 runs to this point, but the Huskies have relied on excellent pitching to allow a paltry six runs in five games.
Rivals Damien and Claremont will square off on Friday. By Saturday morning, fans should know a lot more about how things will shake out over the coming week.