For the first five innings of the game between West Ranch and Canyon at Canyon High School on Wednesday, it was a battle of the pitchers as the Wildcats’ JD Callahan and the Cowboys’ Jace Root kept things close by painting the strike zone.
In the top of the sixth inning tied at 1-1, West Ranch (8-3 overall, 4-1 in Foothill League) broke through to score two runs, giving the Wildcats a 3-1 victory and their fourth league win in five games.
Right fielder Garret Monheim got the offense going in the sixth with a single to right, then Nicholas Perez bunted to advance Monheim while also reaching first. A Canyon error allowed Monheim and Perez to reach an extra base, giving the Wildcats runners on second and third with one out.
First baseman Ryan Tucker reached base on a fielder’s choice, with Perez getting tagged out at second.
With two outs, second baseman Nikko Clarke stepped up to the plate and blasted a single to right, scoring Monheim and Tucker, and giving West Ranch a lead it would not relinquish.
“We need to do a little better job of playing some small ball, moving some runners and getting some people in scoring position, but that was a huge hit by Nikko to push those two runs across. About as clutch a hit as we’ve had all year,” West Ranch head coach Casey Burrill said. “We’re really happy for him, excited for him, but that was a good team victory. Great defense from our catcher, great defense from third base, so it was a lot of people who contributed to get that win.”
“I was going nuts in the dugout. He came up clutch against El Camino on Monday, he was battling back from a couple things. Basketball season, started off a little slow, and now he’s getting into gear,” Callahan said of Clarke. “I’m so happy for him. I’ve known him my whole life and it’s really good to see him doing big things.”
Callahan pitched a complete game, striking out nine batters and allowing only four hits and one earned run.
He seemed to get stronger as the game progressed, a skill he developed working with pitching coach Jim Wagner.
“It kind of goes into the preparation. Come out early and set the tone and as we go later in the game just keep going. I treat every inning as if it’s the first inning. That’s one thing Jim Wagner has told me throughout my whole career,” Callahan said. “Just got out there like it’s the first inning and do your thing.”
The senior right-hander used a wide array of pitches to knock Canyon (3-8 overall, 2-3 in Foothill League) off its rhythm, also throwing heat and finding his spots to near-perfection.
Not only was Callahan throwing some of his best stuff, but pitching a complete game is a huge plus for West Ranch, which now will have more rested arms available for Friday’s contest.
“To come out here on a Wednesday when there’s a two-game set against a league rival and have a guy throw a complete game and take pressure off our bullpen, and have all of our guys ready to pitch on Friday is a really important part of that performance today,” Burrill said. “He was ahead of the hitters. I think he ran a really low pitch count which allowed him to go a complete game. He pounded the strike zone with three different types of pitches and was really kind of keeping them off balance. He is the guy today and the reason why we won today.”
“That was a great pitcher, that’s a great arm, probably the best arm we’ve ever seen,” Canyon head coach Justin Stark said about Callahan. “He can do it all. I thought we put some real quality at-bats against him.”
Root allowed three hits and one earned run, recording four strikeouts in four innings pitched for the Cowboys.
Canyon’s lefty ace was giving West Ranch’s offense some trouble, but a nagging elbow injury forced Stark to pull him in the top of the fifth inning, bringing in junior Jacob Melville to take over on the hill.
“I think he’ll be alright, he’s a little tender. It slowly got worse as the game went on. He wanted to stay out there but I think it was the right call bringing him in,” Stark said about Root. “He was competing and that’s the kind of player he is, what I expect out of him, but I think it was the right call bringing him in and saving him for the rest of the season.”
Trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the fifth, Canyon center fielder Noah Blythe was able to start the inning off with a double to left. He advanced to third off a groundout, then scored off an RBI single from left fielder Conrad Meza to even the score at 1-1.
West Ranch logged its first run in the first inning, starting with a walk for center fielder Jovan Camacho. Designated hitter Ryan Ilan laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance Camacho, then Ryan Camacho grounded out, advancing his brother to third. Monheim hit a single to center to score Jovan, giving the Wildcats an early one-run cushion.
“That’s one thing I’ve told our offense, get a couple runs early,” Callahan said. “Get our pitching staff a couple runs early and it will be over.”
Monheim and Clarke both finished the game 2-for-3 and recorded the team’s three RBIs. Perez and Trey Topping registered the other two hits for West Ranch.
Blythe, Meza, Cebastian Arriaga and Charles Harrison all posted one hit for Canyon.
Despite the loss, the Cowboys defense played with great energy, limiting their errors. Catcher Tyler DeYoung was able to catch a handful of West Ranch baserunners trying to steal second.
Stark believes that as long as his team continues to work hard and compete, they have a great chance to beat the Wildcats on Friday.
“I was proud of them. We had a really good practice yesterday, they worked their butts off and it showed today on the field. They went out there and competed,” Stark said. “If we play like we did today, I think the ball is going to fall in our favor.”
The game on Friday is scheduled to start at 3:30 p.m. at West Ranch.