LOS ANGELES — As El Camino Real coach Josh Lienhard walked to the Dedeaux Field mound in the sixth inning Monday night, a rallying cry could be heard from the West Ranch dugout.
“Oh yeah, into the bullpen!”
A single from Wildcats first baseman Will Chambers — his third hit of the night — had chased ECR starter Bryan Golnick after 5 ⅓ innings.
Christos Stefanos didn’t provide reliever Cole Kitchen with the warmest of welcomes.
His RBI triple, scoring pinch-runner Ryan Tucker, gave the Wildcats their first lead of the night as they went on to a 6-3 Easton Tournament win in their sixth annual game against the Conquistadors at USC’s home field.
“I know (Kitchen) pretty well,” said Stefanos. “I know he’s up there throwing firm, but I was thinking fastball and I was going to hammer it and square it up.”
“ … (Golnick) was kind of getting me all game. I was ready for some hard stuff.”
Stefanos’ go-ahead triple gave the Wildcats a 4-3 lead and a two-run double from Garrett Monheim two batters later staked them to the final score.
A trip to the bullpen nearly spelled doom for West Ranch (3-1) as well.
Trent Bird was pulled after 5 ⅔ innings of work before Vincent Rojas came on to get the last out of the sixth.
ECR (0-4)loaded the bases against Rojas in the seventh to bring the go-ahead run to the plate with two outs but David Montalban got a fly out to center fielder Jovan Camacho to end the game.
“Anytime you get to play a night game, against a team like this and in a setting like this stadium, I think it’s something that’s memorable,” said West Ranch coach Casey Burrill, a former All-American catcher at USC.
Bird scuffled out of the gates after a pair of singles to open the game turned into unearned runs following a misplayed grounder at first base. ECR added another run in the second on an RBI triple from Kitchen.
But Bird settled down and retired 7 of his last nine batters faced. He scattered seven hits and three walks while striking out three.
“(Bird) kind of got bled to death in that first inning,” Burrill said. “They weren’t hitting anything that hard but kept racking up the hits. I thought he stayed the course well.”
Getting the length out of Bird despite the rocky start was especially important as the Wildcats have four games this week due to last week’s rainouts.
Prior to Stefanos’ triple, Chambers had done most of the damage for West Ranch. His RBI single in the first drove in Ryan Camacho and he drove in Jovan Camacho with a double down the left-field line in the fourth.
Along with playing at Dedeaux Field once again, the Wildcats also had a chance to tour USC’s campus prior to the game.
“I think it’s a good experience for all the boys to kind of see what this is like,” Burrill said. “It’s one of those experiences we really look forward to every year.”