Hart baseball advances to VIBL championship

Saugus' Nolan Kutcher (5) slides into home as Hart catcher Kyle Smisko (36) tags him at home during a VIBL semifinal game at Hart on Friday, July 14, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Since winning the Valley Invitational Baseball League championship in 2013, Hart has advanced deep into the VIBL playoffs four times.

It’s still waiting for another title. That wait might end this weekend.

Hart beat rival Saugus, 7-4, at Hart on Friday to advance to today’s VIBL championship game.

The Indians will take on El Camino Real at Burroughs High in Burbank at 7 p.m.

Hart coach Jim Ozella said Tripp Bowers will start on the mound in the finale. The righty has a strong act to follow.

Trevor Hoff pitched three scoreless innings to open Friday’s game, and Peter Niednagel tossed two scoreless innings to close it out.

The Indians took a 3-0 lead in the second inning on RBI singles from Rocco Saldivar and Kendall Thomas.

Josh Cerpa followed with a sacrifice fly.

Andy Vierra had two hits in the game for Saugus, which scored three runs of its own in the middle innings but, ultimately, couldn’t get out of its own way.

Hart’s Rocco Salvidar (91) swings at bat during a VIBL semifinal game against Saugus at Hart on Friday. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

The Centurions made three errors in the game.

“If we don’t make those errors, we win the game,” said Saugus coach Carl Grissom. “Hart’s too good to make mistakes and expect to win.”

Grissom added that he was proud of how his team played this summer amid a coaching transition. John Maggiora stepped down after the season, and Grissom stepped in as interim coach.

Late last month, Grissom was announced as the permanent coach, and he says his players welcomed him with open arms.

Saugus’ Andy Vierra (19) slides to make a catch in center field for an out during a VIBL semifinal game at Hart on Friday. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

“They’re a good bunch of young men,” he said. “… They accepted me and allowed me do my job. They worked hard for me, and I’m excited for what’s to come. We’re going to be off to a good start. I’m looking forward to the season.”

Saugus’ Bobby Garcia pitched five innings, allowing four runs, with little help from his defense.

Trever Coogan had two hits for Hart, as did Saldivar.

The Indians lost to Saugus in the VIBL semis in 2014, lost to Woodland Hills West (made up of El Camino Real players) in the title game in 2015, and lost to Birmingham in the 2016 semis.

Ozella, frankly, isn’t concerned with winning the title as much as he is with seeing how players handle the pressure.

“We want to use guys to see what they’re like under fire,” he said.

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