By Fred J. Robledo
WEST COVINA — Damien kept its Sierra League title hopes alive with a clutch 6-3 victory over South Hills in eight innings after nearly blowing it in the seventh.
Damien’s Andrew Garcia saved the day, belting a one-out double in the eighth to score Jonathan Olsen and Grant Hockin to break a 3-3 tie, and the Spartans tacked on another run for breathing room.
“I was just trying to put the bat on the ball,” Garcia said. “I saw a curve ball first pitch and I took it. The second pitch he (South Hills pitcher Gavin Velasquez) hung it again and I sent it to left field. It’s a big win for us.”
Damien (16-6, 8-4) moved to within a game of league-leading South Hills (18-4-1, 9-3), who is now tied for first with Chino Hills (18-5, 9-3) with three games to go.
Damien will host South Hills again Friday with a chance to drawn even, then finishes the season next week with a pair of games against Chino Hills.
Essentially, Damien controls its own destiny and can at least share the title if it wins out.
But the Spartans almost blew it.
Damien led 3-1 going into the bottom of the seventh behind another solid pitching performance from Grant Hockin.
A hit, walk and fly-out gave the Huskies runners on second and third with one out. Gabe Chavez followed with a grounder to second that was thrown wildly to first, allowing South Hills’ Marcos Campos and Corey Cadek to score to tie it, 3-3.
South Hills had the winning run on second with one-out, but a fly to right and force out at second ended the inning, giving Damien life again.
Hockin, who struck out eight and drove in two runs in the third inning to stake the Spartans to a 3-1 lead in the third, felt the final result was deserving.
Hockin got the win to improve to 9-2.
“This was a huge win, we kind of lost it in the seventh,” Hockin said. “This shows that we don’t give up and we have potential to get this done (league title) before the playoffs start.”
South Hills, who has won or shared 11 straight league titles, felt it let one get away too.
Before Hockin hit a two-out single that drove in two runs to go up 3-1 in the third, the Huskies blew a chance on an inning-ending double play to get out of the inning tied, 1-1.
“It’s a tough one. It gets tougher if we don’t come back Friday ready to play,” South Hills coach Darren Murphy said. “You have to have short-term memory and come back Friday. That’s part of the Sierra League.
“We had our chances but we gave them a couple extra opportunities and they turned it into four runs. It is what it is.”
By Fred J. Robledo