By Jason Greenwald
For the Signal
It was a perfect spring day for baseball on Friday afternoon, with the Valencia boys hammering out an important win against Hart in a 4-0 victory on the road.
The Vikings (11-6 overall, 9-1 in Foothill League), who are eyeing the Foothill League title, took another big step to secure their place on top of the leaderboard behind a stellar performance from junior pitcher Mitchell Torres.
“He’s been great every time he’s gone out there. He competes his butt off and many things don’t phase him,” said Valencia head coach Mike Killinger. “You know he comes off the football field and he’s got that mentality where he just doesn’t care, he’s just going to go get them.”
The Indians (9-10, 4-5) also had a solid performance from their junior pitcher Warner Rhodes. He tossed five and 2/3 innings of work, collecting five strikeouts and gave up two earned runs.
Junior left fielder Owen Strader got Valencia going in the third inning with a leadoff single. Warner lost the next batter, junior shortstop Sean Ogrin, after hitting him during an attempted bunt.
Warner retired the next two batters and looked as if he would get out of the inning with no damage until Torres, who was also hitting, came up to the plate.
Torres crushed a double deep into the Indians’ outfield to bring home Strader and Ogrin and create the first lead of the game at 2-0.
“I feel like I’m seeing the ball well right now. It’s fun when you can go out and have a good day at the plate and throw good on the mound,” Torres said.
Hart had its best opportunity to score in the bottom of the fifth with the bases loaded and one out.
After the first batter flew out, Hart’s next batter, sophomore second baseman Ben Niednagel, was hit by a pitch and claimed first base. Senior center fielder Cooper Austin came up next and dropped a single in to advance Niednagel to second base. Torres walked senior shortstop Rocco Saldivar to load the bases.
With only one out in the inning, Killinger came out to the mound to calm his pitcher, which seemed to work. Torres went on to strikeout the next two batters and silenced any momentum Hart was building.
That seemed to be the story for the Indians on Friday, who could not get the clutch hit with runners on base.
“When you have your chances you have to compete and take advantage of the opportunities that you’re given. We had numerous opportunities to move people over,” said Hart head coach Jim Ozella. “Somebody has to get a base hit, somebody has to compete. Their guy competed in that situation and we didn’t get the hit that we needed.”
That would be the last inning for Torres, who pitched five clean innings and recorded seven strikeouts.
“I didn’t feel like I had my best stuff today. I let a lot of guys on, gave them free bases, but I competed and that’s all that the coaches asked from me,” said Torres. “My curveball was working towards the end and had some trouble locating my fastball.”
Valencia came alive again in the top of the seventh, when senior second baseman Kyle Barileau doubled home senior third baseman Davis Cop to pad the lead at 3-0.
Torres finished his impressive day with an RBI-single to score Cop and pushed the lead to 4-0. He finished the day with two hits and three runs batted in.
Valencia brought in junior pitcher Ryan Kysar to close out the next two innings in relief. Kysar struck out five of the next seven batters to end the game.
“We got spring break now, we get a little break from league. We are going to go down to Orange County and play some good teams down there too,” said Killinger. “Just excited for these last five games when we come back.”