Scoring first but conceding nine runs afterward, the Monarchs were dealt a heavy defeat by the top-seeded Bobcats as absent bats and questionable officiating told Friday’s contest. By Benjamin Royer, Sports Editor
The Monarchs began Friday afternoon with a bang against the Bobcats. The visitors in green and gold earned a scoring chance off the bat when freshman designated hitter Joshua Wood’s RBI bloop single into short center scored freshman third baseman Dorian Asher — who began the rally with a two-out walk.
Valley College baseball (27-15, 11-9 WSC South) led No. 1 Saddleback College (33-8, 17-4 OEC) after the top of the first, but the underdog dream faded with each consecutive inning. The Bobcats responded instantly to the Monarchs' 1-0 advantage as Saddleback’s starting pitcher, Connor Wilford, settled down and the Bobcats’ lineup added a flurry of runs — eventually taking the Monarchs down by a score of 9-1.
The 2-5 spots in the order — freshman shortstop Maddox Latta, Asher, freshman center fielder Jackson Lapiner and Wood — all tallied one hit, but the other 10 batters who stepped up to plate hit 0-for-19 combined.
“Honestly we need to just have competitive at-bats,” said Asher. “We gotta get up there, stick to our approach and try to not do too much in big situations. In those situations, the moment got too big.”
The Bobcats matched Valley’s run in the bottom of the first, tying the score with a two-out single of their own. Freshman starting pitcher Kyle Ayers struck out the side, spotlighting why the University of Houston took interest in him. But in the second and third, the Bobcats showed the Monarchs’ right-hander why they are the No. 5 ranked offense in California.
A leadoff walk quickly turned into bases loaded with two singles in the second. Ayers attempted to close out the inning unscathed, but left a two-strike fastball over the plate. Saddleback’s center fielder, Jacob Naso, took advantage, ripping a line drive into left field to score two runs. Another run came home on a groundout to short to put Valley behind by three.
With one out in the third, three straight hits — double, triple, double — brought home two more runs, a third crossing on a groundout in the following at-bat. Down 7-1, the first three innings were only a precursor to the six ahead of the Monarchs. With two outs and a runner on second in the fifth, freshman Bryant Colon — who was pinch-hitting for freshman second baseman Manolo Tafolla — fouled a pitch off his foot. The ball ricocheted to third base and Saddleback third baseman Michael Davinni threw to first for the final out of the inning. Valley’s bench signaled to the three-person umpire crew that the pitch was fouled off, but they ignored the Monarchs’ complaints. Mallas walked over to each umpire and voiced his displeasure with the decision. Throughout the entirety of the affair, both teams jeered and yelled from the dugout at the home plate umpire — united with their feelings about the officiating Friday.
“Generally, we were in the Orange Empire Conference, so it’s supposed to be better officiating is what we hear,” said Mallas. “They didn’t have their best day and they missed a couple of blatantly clear plays, but thankfully it wasn’t close, so it didn’t matter.”
From the fourth to the sixth, freshman right-hander Andrew Howe tossed three scoreless innings, but the Monarchs could not push across a run during the stretch. As soon as the righty was relieved from the contest in favor of freshman lefty Josh Balos, Valley continued to bleed. A one-out single from Saddleback designated hitter Tyler DeClusin brought home two runs to give the Bobcats a 9-1 lead — an eight-run cushion that would hold for the victory.
Freshman right-hander Danny Veloz will take the ball Saturday at 11 a.m. in the second game of the First Round series. Down 1-0, Valley will have to win games two and three to make it into the Second Round of the CCCAA Southern California Regional.
“Veloz can beat anyone in the state,” said Mallas. “We’re hoping to play in that third game, this time tomorrow.