Monarchs battle back, unable to erase early deficit against Falcons in 7-5 loss

Updated: Feb 15

Valley College’s late comeback attempt was all for naught, as the Monarchs could not repeat the magic from Thursday afternoon.

By Benjamin Royer, Sports Editor

Valley College catcher Robert Velasco (center) dives for a foul ball during Saturday's game against Folsom Lake. (Griffin O'Rourke / The Valley Star)

Valley College president Barry Gribbons sat down with his son Luke to watch the highest-scoring team in the Western State Conference, but instead of the large run totals shown in the previous seven games, the bowtie-wearing leader observed the Monarchs’ offense get tied in knots.

In the first two games of the series, Valley baseball (5-3) experienced both sides of a comeback. But as the contest trickled into Saturday afternoon, Folsom Lake (4-2) never gave up its lead, defeating the Monarchs 7-5, thanks to an efficient performance from its pitching staff. Holding the Monarchs to one hit until the seventh inning, the Falcons stymied run-scoring opportunities until the final three innings.

“Love having the sports back," said Gribbons. "It's nice to see the student-athletes engaged again. It’s a lot of fun seeing all of the competitions. This Saturday’s game, of course, the outcome wasn't what we hoped for, but we have a great team and I know this spring the baseball team is doing really well. I expect they will continue to have a lot of success.”

Freshman center fielder Jackson Lapiner helped the Monarchs threaten to score in the bottom of the first.

The 6-foot-1-inch lefty lasered the ball into the right-center gap, cruising into third with a stand-up triple. However, the Monarchs stranded Lapiner and freshman third baseman Lee Brandzel, who reached on an error, leaving the game scoreless after one.

Folsom Lake struck first in the top of the second. After the Falcons hit a double with one out, a groundout gave the Monarchs an opportunity to slip out of the frame clean. The following batter lifted a foul ball behind home plate and freshman catcher Robert Velasco struggled with the trajectory of the ball, dropping it and giving the Falcons’ batter another chance to score a run.

“Make a play, make a play, make a play,” said coach Dave Mallas to Velasco, visibly frustrated from the dugout.

The out was not made and Velasco’s error came back to bite the Monarchs, as an RBI double and single in successive at-bats gave the Falcons an early 2-0 lead.

Valley College pitcher Kyle Ayers pitches in the second inning during Saturday's game against Folsom Lake. (Griffin O'Rourke / The Valley Star)

Freshman pitcher Kyle Ayers could not locate or miss bats Saturday morning. Giving up four runs and unable to find a rhythm against Folsom Lake, the righty exited with the bases loaded after throwing 81 pitches in only 2.1 innings of work.

Entering in his place, freshman right-hander Owen Jennings struck out one batter, but walked in two runs, both of which were tallied to Ayers’ line. Folsom Lake led 4-0 as the bats turned over to the bottom of the third.

Self-inflicted errors from Folsom Lake gifted the Monarchs a run in the bottom of the sixth. With one out and a runner on first, Lapiner hit a ground ball to first base for a likely inning-ending double play. Luckily for the Monarchs, the Falcons’ first baseman overshot the shortstop covering second base, sailing the ball into the outfield and allowing both runners to take second and first respectively. Moments later, the Falcons’ catcher could not corral a fastball over the plate and Velasco took advantage — stealing third and home on the same play.

Valley was unable to tack on more, but the deficit was cut to three runs with three innings to go.

From the third inning to the seventh, freshman pitcher Andrew Howe supplied Valley with a total of 4.0 innings. Howe’s innings were the lengthiest a Monarch pitcher lasted against the Falcons on Saturday.

“There was not a lot of run support on our side today,” said Howe. “I was just trying to get something started. Get the feet moving with some plays. I came in and got my job done.”

Howe left the bases loaded with two outs in the top of the seventh and freshman left-handed reliever Jake Baskenbaum entered to try and keep it a three-run game. He could not hold the runners, allowing a double off the left-field wall, letting all three Falcons score as Folsom Lake took a 7-1 lead.

Howe finished with 4.0 innings, three hits, three earned runs, three strikeouts and two walks.

“I want to make a point to say that Andrew Howe pitched the best I have seen him pitch,” said pitching coach Josh Goossen-Brown. “He came in, gave us a chance to stay in the game, he kept it close. I am very proud of the way he pitched today. Everyone else picked each other up, but Howe did excellently.”

Chipping away at the Folsom Lake lead in the bottom of the seventh, Valley’s hit total rose from one to five. Freshman shortstop Dorian Asher, freshman right fielder Joshua Wood and freshman left fielder Elvis Park hit singles, loading the bases.

A groundball caused a fielder’s choice, scoring one run, and a dropped fly ball from Folsom Lake’s second baseman allowed Wood to tack on another. Suddenly, the Falcons’ lead shrunk to 7-3.

Freshman outfielder Yeonwon Jeong pinch-hit for Lapiner with two outs in the seventh but struck out, stranding two runners on first and third.

The Monarchs strung together two runs in the bottom of the ninth, but the consolation prize was not enough to push the game into uncertainty for the Falcons.

Freshman shortstop Maddox Latta, who had missed the previous two games with a hamstring injury, entered to pinch-hit but flew out to center to end the game.

Valley will attempt to reenter the win column on Tuesday, when the Monarchs host Moorpark at 2 p.m.

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