Valley looked to take a 2-0 series lead against Citrus College on Thursday, but errors helped cause the Monarchs to lose by 10.
By Benjamin Royer, Sports Editor
Despite the high-scoring affair remaining close through six innings, the Monarchs were eventually buried from the weight of their own mistakes.
Valley College baseball’s (13-8, 2-3 WSC South) Thursday afternoon contest against Citrus College (11-11, 3-2 WSC South) began and ended with home runs from the Owls’ designated hitter Cooper McKinney – capping off a 16-6 loss that coach Dave Mallas coined as “frustrating.”
“We could not get the defensive plays that we needed,” said coach Dave Mallas postgame. “[Our pitchers] didn’t make some pitches in some big moments. Whether it’s a 16-6 game or a 2-1 game, you win one, lose one, there is always a chance to win that last game.”
Committing four errors, the Monarchs had several defensive blunders that expanded innings and allowed the Owls to score consistently.
Valley traded runs with Citrus early in the contest when the 6-foot-5-inch, 260 lb McKinney hit a run-scoring double in the top of the first. After freshman center fielder Jackson Lapiner tripled to left, freshman right fielder Joshua Wood brought him home – lacing a single down the right-field line.
A dropped flyball error from freshman left fielder Lee Brandzel in the top of the third allowed McKinney to step up to the plate with two down. Punishing the mistake, the Owls’ mammoth cleanup hitter crushed a fastball over the center-field wall – so far beyond the fence, Lapiner did not attempt to track the ball. Citrus led 3-1.
Freshman starting pitcher Kyle Ayers has been inconsistent with command all season, possessing a 33-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio – making hitters swing and miss, but occasionally failing to locate the strike zone. So was the case on Thursday. The right-hander walked five Owls and threw four wild pitches in 3.0 innings, but relied upon his mid-90s fastball and high-spin breaking pitches to strike out three batters. Ayers conceded a fourth run in the top of the fourth, but only gave up two hits – the RBI knocks from McKinney.
Cutting the deficit to one in the bottom of the third, freshman shortstop Maddox Latta scraped a breaking pitch over the right-field wall for a solo home run, his third of the year.
Relieving Ayers with no outs in the top of the fourth, freshman right-hander Andrew Howe could not keep the Owls from increasing their lead. A mix of singles and walks let Citrus score three runs – one of which charged to Ayers – and built their lead to 6-2.
Valley battled back despite being down four runs. Latta hit an RBI sac fly in the bottom of the fourth, and in the bottom of the fifth, freshman third baseman Dorian Asher hit a solo home run, nudging the score closer to 6-4. Asher has now hit two home runs in his last three games.
Trailing by two runs, the Monarchs had a shot at still winning the affair but failed to play routine baseball, as errors led to a catastrophic top of the seventh. Asher tossed a possible 6-4-3 double play away with a throwing error and Lapiner dropped a simple flyball in center field. The errors resulted in three Owls’ runs. Freshman pitchers Daniel Parra and Josh Eigenbrodt could not stop more hits from coming through. A bases-clearing double from Owls’ shortstop Robert Valdivia, a two-run home run from Citrus first baseman Chad Green and a solo moonshot from McKinney closed a 10-run frame that sunk Valley into submission.
“There were a couple of fly balls, line drives right at us and groundballs we threw away,” said Lapiner about the defensive performance. “It is all fundamental and that was where our errors were at. We need to clean it up a bit.”
Valley scored concession runs in the seventh and eighth, but the deficit never shrunk below 10.
The Monarchs will wrap up the series against the Owls Friday when they travel to Citrus College for a 2:30 affair.