Valencia High’s Trace Eldridge didn’t deflect the question.
The team’s starting pitcher, Ben Fariss, didn’t either.
Both said the image of West Ranch High dogpiling at Valencia after last season’s Foothill League finale had seared itself into memory.
The Vikings stewed on it Tuesday at Valencia when they beat the Wildcats to move into a tie atop the Foothill League standings.
They carried it again Thursday at West Ranch as shortstop Bobby Orr leapt and snagged a line drive to secure an 8-4 win and an outright Foothill League title, sending the Vikings sprinting onto the field.
Prep baseball: Leaping grab at short ends it, secures Valencia’s 10th Foothill League title. pic.twitter.com/lb3Svx1nwr
— Mason Nesbitt (@mason_nesbitt) May 12, 2017
“We still had that bitter taste in our mouth,” said Eldridge, whose team dropped two games to West Ranch in the final week of last season to share the league crown with the Wildcats. “They dogpiled on our field, and we wanted to do the same on their yard.”
Eldridge finished 3-for-3 and scored four runs.
He lifted a no-doubt home run over the right field fence for a solo shot in the fourth inning. He hooked an RBI double into the same corner of the field in the sixth.
Valencia (23-7 overall, 13-2 in Foothill) wrapped out 12 hits off West Ranch ace Timmy Josten, who fought through six innings, keeping the Wildcats (19-8, 12-3) close enough for one last go.
With Valencia leading 8-4, Wildcats Will Chambers and Ryan Camacho singled to lead off the bottom of the seventh, forcing Valencia coach Mike Killinger to dip into his bullpen for a second time.
He shifted Eldridge from shortstop to the mound, and the senior unleashed a barrage of breaking balls that led to two quick strikeouts and the liner to Orr.
After the dogpile, as Killinger talked to Orr, the coach pretended to be a shopper reaching for a can on the top shelf.
“It was probably the highest he could jump,” Killinger said, “and the farthest in his glove that he could have held on to it.”
An outright title wasn’t out of Valencia’s reach, either, even with the Vikings entering the week down a game.
“It was a bigger pressure situation this year,” Fariss said. “We just had to make sure we came in here and executed.”
Fariss, who’d thrown only three innings since April 13 due to arm soreness, didn’t electrify on Thursday. But he executed pitches when he had to.
In the fourth inning, he worked around back-to-back singles to lead off the frame by striking out two batters looking.
He told Killinger before the fifth he was on the borderline of fatigue. He’d go back out, but a look to the dugout would signal his last pitch.
After a Christos Stefanos double, a Chambers RBI single, and a hitter batter, Killinger turned to Lukas White, who recorded three outs to keep the score 5-3 Valencia.
“When he threw that last curveball and hit that guy, he was just out of gas,” Killinger said of Fariss, “because he hasn’t thrown deep into games in quite a while.”
West Ranch’s Josten relishes pitching deep into games. He tossed seven innings in West Ranch’s 4-3 win in last season’s finale. He pitched an eight-inning complete game in the Wildcats’ win over Valencia in the first round of league in 2017.
Thursday, the Vikings strung together four hits in a three-run third and five hits in a three-run sixth, the last two runs coming on a single from Cody Minnis.
Tyler Erne drove in Valencia’s first two runs with RBI singles, one in the first and one in the third.
Jovan Camacho went 2-for-3 for West Ranch, which will be one of the Foothill League’s three playoff qualifiers along with Valencia and Hart.
“We thought it was a really fun week,” said West Ranch coach Casey Burrill. “We thought we competed in both games.”