By Jason Greenwald
For The Signal
The Valencia boys baseball team won the Foothill League title in the last game of the season with a 13-3 win over Hart on its home field Thursday afternoon. The team rushed the field after the final out of the game and celebrated their first league title since 2017.
“These kids worked their tails off all year long and I know coming into this year we weren’t the favorites,” said Valencia head coach Mike Killinger. “They really came together, especially when we had the little blip during spring break when we played bad, but other then that the guys worked really hard and it’s a testament to what they put in.”
The Vikings (19-12 overall, 13-2 in Foothill League) needed a victory over Hart (11-19, 6-9) to lock up the Foothill League title. With West Ranch behind them by one game and an opportunity to share the title, Valencia’s offense stepped up to plate and handled its business scoring four runs in the second inning, four runs in the fourth and five runs in the sixth.
Junior starting pitcher Mitchell Torres had a rough top of the first inning. He was having a difficult time finding the strike zone and Hart was able to take advantage of the situation.
Sophomore shortstop Ryan Benz hit a single into centerfield to get the leadoff runner on base.
Senior designated hitter Patrick Arman hit a home run, but the run was negated when he surpassed the base runner ahead of him (Benz) between first and second base. Benz was waiting to see if the ball had left the park.
“It’s been a struggle throughout the season, we had a lot of opportunities throughout the year to be more successful, it didn’t workout,” said Hart head coach Jim Ozella. “Congratulations to Valencia, job well done and it was very deserving.”
With two outs, Torres loaded the bases from a double that was hit by senior right fielder Kendall Thomas and a walk earned by senior left fielder David Holuby.
Torres walked junior first basemen Isaac Kim, giving the Indians a 1-0 lead. The next batter, junior catcher Jakob Marquez, laced a single that scored two more runs and advanced the score to 3-0.
Answering adversity was nothing new to the Vikings, who remained calm and seized their opportunity in the second inning against senior starting pitcher Peter Backer.
The bottom of the second inning started with a double from junior centerfielder Brock Kleszcz and a single from junior left fielder Owen Strader.
With two men on base and no outs, junior right fielder Parker Simonian dropped a single into centerfield, giving Valencia its first run of the game. Junior Grant Weiss followed up Simonian’s RBI with one of his own, hitting a hard hit ball past Hart’s shortstop for another run, making it 3-2.
The bottom of the second inning continued when senior third baseman Davis Cop hit a sacrifice fly ball into foul territory far down the first base line with the bases loaded, bringing in a run.
Senior second baseman Kyle Barileau finished the inning with an RBI single to take the Vikings first lead of the game at 4-3.
Torres pitched two scoreless inning after giving up three in the first. Junior pitcher Ryan Kysar came in relief to start the fourth inning and shut down the Indians’ offense, pitching three dominate innings in Thursday’s showdown.
“I was really pumped up to get in the game,” said Kysar. “After Tuesday, I knew I was coming in sometime Thursday to close it and that is all I wanted to do.”
Valencia had another offensive burst in the bottom of the fourth inning, when Torres came to the plate with the bases loaded and manufactured a sacrifice fly, pushing its lead to 5-3.
Kleszcz and Simonian both singled home a run in the inning. Weiss earned himself a walk with the bases loaded and collected an RBI to further the Vikings lead at 8-3.
“We fell down down early, we were actually a little lucky not to be down more,” said Killinger. “We bounced back and put a bunch of good at-bats together. We went through three or four of their pitchers and just strung things together and were able to put up big numbers.”
The Vikings came alive again in the bottom of the sixth inning when senior Jaret Trunnell hit a double, junior Nick Lottermoser earned a walk and junior Tyler Robitaille singled to load the bases.
In the next at-bat, junior shortstop Sean Ogrin cracked a hit into shallow center to score Trunnell.
With the bases loaded and two outs, Cop came to the plate looking to do damage and that’s exactly what he did. Cop hit a grand slam over the leftfield wall and his dugout was ecstatic as he rounded third base and headed home. The score stood at 13-3.
“I didn’t have the greatest day before the hit, but the coaches were in my ear telling me to stay positive,” said Cop. “That’s how baseball works, the ball doesn’t always fall your way, but I was ready to go and locked in at that last at-bat. You can’t ask for a better feeling, I’m so proud of all of the guys in the lineup and in the dugout, everybody was all in.”
Senior pitcher Cade Erickson came in for the top of the seventh inning and closed out the game, giving Valencia the victory and Foothill League title.
With the regular season over, Valencia will now look to take its momentum into the CIF Southern Section playoffs. The brackets will be announced in the coming days.