By the time Valencia High baseball broke an extended team huddle following its 3-2 home win over Saugus on Wednesday, news had already trickled among players and coaches that across town Hart had beaten first-place West Ranch.
That made Lukas White’s performance in the bottom of the seventh inning all the more crucial.
White, who started the game at first base for Valencia (16-6 overall, 6-2 in Foothill League), shuffled to the mound with a runner on first and no outs, the Vikings protecting a one-run lead.
An error and a sacrifice bunt put runners at second and third.
White then fielded a sharp grounder, checked the runners and threw to first for the second out.
Zack Brown received the throw at first and fired to second where Nolan Kutcher dove back, barely safe. The ball was then relayed to third where Tony Jacob Jr. dove back just ahead of the tag.
Prep baseball: Valencia’s Lukas White records strikeout w/ runners at 2nd, 3rd to preserve 3-2 win over Saugus. pic.twitter.com/DWg85NrUj5
— Mason Nesbitt (@mason_nesbitt) April 20, 2017
It was near chaos.
Yet, White stepped back to the rubber and struck out the next batter looking to put Valencia in control of its destiny.
If the Vikings win their final seven Foothill League games (highlighted by a pair against West Ranch early next month), they will be outright champs.
“I think he’s a guy that’s able to stay clam under pressure,” said Valencia starting pitcher Chase Farrell of White. “… He knows that if he gets his pitches over, the other team is definitely not going to hit it.”
That’s been the case for Farrell much of the season. He didn’t have his best stuff Wednesday but leaned on his fastball and slider to get through six strong innings (two earned runs on seven hits, nine strikeouts and one walk).
“He got his punch-outs,” said Saugus coach John Maggiora, “but our guys got up there and grinded against him.”
In the second inning, Brandyn Cruz momentarily gave the Centurions (8-15, 4-4) a 1-0 lead with a home run to center field.
The Vikings answered with three runs off Saugus starter Jacob Jr. in the bottom of the inning.
Valencia benefitted from two walks, an error and a catcher’s interference in the frame, Bobby Orr making Saugus pay with an RBI single.
In four innings, Jacob Jr. allowed five hits, struck out three and walked five. Saugus walked seven in the game.
The Centurions walked seven in a 9-7 loss to Valencia on March 17. The Vikings walked 10 that day.
Wednesday, after Tyler Erne walked the leadoff batter in the seventh and left due to health concerns (he’s coming off an elbow injury), White came in throwing strikes, and that made all the difference.
“As a pitcher, there’s a million things going on around you,” said Valencia coach Mike Killinger. “So, as easy as it is to say, you can’t worry about all the other stuff, just refocus and get the batter.”
However, that doesn’t discount the fact that Saugus has played nearly everyone in league tough and remains in playoff contention.
“Who wants to play us right now? Seriously,” Maggiora said. “Look at a couple of our loss: We lost to Valencia 9-7 and 3-2. We lost to Hart 4-3. It’s youth, but nobody wants to play us. I wouldn’t want to play us. Our guys just have to keep battling.”
Kutcher finished 2-for-4 with a double for Saugus, which will host Valencia on Friday at 3:30 p.m.