As Valencia High coach Mike Killinger held court behind home plate after a 3-0 win over West Ranch on Tuesday, some of his players broke into “Happy Birthday” for someone’s mother around the home dugout.
The real party, for anyone even semi-interested in high school baseball in the Santa Clarita Valley, commences today at 3:30 p.m. at West Ranch when the Vikings and Wildcats will play a winner-take-all game for the Foothill League title.
The teams shared the 2016 league crown.
“It’s everything that everybody wanted,” said West Ranch coach Casey Burrill. “It’s everything we thought it would be. It’s going to be a really fun environment over there on Thursday.”
Said Killinger, “This is what you hope for at the start of the year – hope you have a chance.”
The Vikings (22-7 overall, 12-2 in Foothill) kept hope of a Foothill League title alive Tuesday behind a complete game shutout from ace Chase Farrell and a two-run double off the left field wall from Jake Biscailuz, who said afterward that the Vikings relished the chance for an outright title.
“This year we want to win it all,” he said. “We’re determined to win this entire thing. We want to put ’17 on that wall.”
The outfield signage showcasing Valencia’s past championships that Biscailuz was referring to isn’t far from where his first-inning double landed.
It was about the only damage to West Ranch starter Alex Burge, who proceeded to toss five straight scoreless innings.
The Wildcats (19-7, 12-2) will now turn to ace Timmy Josten, who’s 1-1 against the Vikings this season.
The lefty pitched an eight-inning complete game in a 3-2 win on March 29, and he allowed one run in four innings of a 3-1 loss on April 5.
Valencia will likely counter with either Lukas White or Ben Fariss, both righties. Asked via text if Fariss was starting today, Killinger responded, “To be determined.”
Fariss entered the year as half of the league’s most daunting rotation, but soreness in his throwing arm around the time of spring break led Killinger to ease him back onto the mound.
Fariss, who possesses one of the league’s best fastballs, pitched three scoreless innings against Golden Valley last week. Before that, he last pitched on April 13.
“I think we’re going to see a couple of really good pitchers out on the mound,” Burrill said. “We think our guy is the right guy to be pitching in that game.”
West Ranch’s coach later added, “I think if our offense sets the table again for us on Thursday like it did today, I think we’ll find some success.”
The Wildcats rattled off seven hits Tuesday, but all were singles – from a lineup that’s averaged close to seven runs a game this season.
No. 3 and No. 4 in the batting order, Christos Stefanos and Will Chambers have done a lot of the heavy lifting.
They’ve posted a combined 51 RBIs.
Shortstop Trace Eldridge leads Valencia in hitting, with a .466 average. Fariss has a team-high 33 RBIs for the Vikings, who dropped West Ranch to its first loss since April 19.
Burrill doesn’t believe it will be difficult to refocus his guys, though.
“I think there’ll be big buzz Thursday around campus,” he said. “It’s senior day. Shoot, we have a faculty barbecue going on, and LivePlaySports and the TV cameras are going to be out there.
“I think it will be difficult to not be ready for that game.”