As Hart baseball held a two-run lead over West Ranch in the seventh inning, Indians pitcher Peter Niednagel took to the mound to close out the game.
With each warmup pitch he threw, the Wildcats dugout grew louder and louder. The chain link fence flexed as it held back the cluster of Cats who were doing – or rather, saying – anything they could to get an edge in the final frame.
“None of what they really say affects me,” Niednagel said with a shrug after the game. “It’s not like they’re out there doing anything to me.”
The pitcher’s focused demeanor reflected that of the entire Indians’ team as he struck out one and gave up one hit in 2/3 of an inning to polish off Hart’s 4-3 win over West Ranch on Friday.
The Indians picked up the win without UCLA signee Cole Roederer, who strained his hamstring in Wednesday’s game against the Cats.
“I thought we showed a lot of character today,” said Hart coach Jim Ozella. “… We didn’t think ‘Oh, Cole can’t play.’ That wasn’t part of our thinking at all. The whole thinking was people step up, people get the job done.”
After two scoreless innings, West Ranch (13-7 overall, 5-2 in Foothill League) struck first when Jovan Camacho’s sacrifice bunt allowed Justin Bumgarner to score.
The Wildcats followed up in the fourth inning with another run scored on an error.
Hart’s bats came alive in the bottom of the inning as the Indians picked up a trio of runs. Brooks Statley scored on an error to start the frenzy, then Rocco Saldivar and Josh Cerpa each launched RBI singles to pull the home team ahead 3-2.
“Some of our guys in the middle and lower in the lineup had some big at-bats today,” Ozella said. “ … Now is the time for people to you know, show that they are capable, and I thought I saw that today.”
Statley’s fifth-inning RBI double to left field gave Hart (9-10, 5-2) some breathing room and allowed Ryan Carolan to retire from the mound.
Carolan, who is known as “Fish” to his team due to his love of fishing, threw 6 1/3 innings, tossing five K’s and allowing six hits.
“He’s been ‘Big Fish’ for us all year,” Ozella said. “He’s stepped up in big games.”
Bumgarner scored on an error in the seventh inning, but that was all the offense West Ranch could muster.
“The game turned out to be what everyone thought it would be,” said Wildcats coach Casey Burrill. “One-one ball game, could go either way, two really good teams and today didn’t disappoint.”
The Indians’ win knots up the top of the Foothill League standings once again, with Hart and West Ranch holding on to 5-2 league records.
In the three-game league series between the two, Hart took the 2-1 advantage.
“It’s a long season,” Burrill said. “We’re not even halfway through league play yet, and we’re tied up with Hart at the top and we’re thrilled to play the second half of league.”
The Indians play Santa Monica on Saturday in the Redondo Tournament before resuming league play against Golden Valley on Wednesday at 3:30. West Ranch will host Saugus on the same day and time.
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