EL MONTE –– Scoring five runs through the first two innings of play against Trinity Classical Academy, El Monte appeared to have the CIF-Southern Section Division 6 second-round playoff home game under control at home on Tuesday.
Battling back to within one run of the Lions, the Knights proved that no matter how big the deficit, no matter how many pitchers deployed, the Knights are never out of a game fighting valiantly until the final pitch in a 6-5 loss.
“Well, in life, it’s not about how you start, it’s how you finish,” said coach Mike Franchimone. “They finish well. Sometimes we start with a little adversity and maybe a little tight and we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to put the other team on their heels. We are usually coming off a couple runs deficit to play some catch-up and today we just weren’t able to finish it up.”
El Monte’s starting pitcher Ruben Hernandez did his job in the top of the first inning, striking out two of the four batters he faced for his only strikeouts of the game.
Trinity’s starting pitcher Andrew Pfeiffer didn’t fare as well. With two outs and a runner on second base, Pfeiffer gave up a single to Nathan Velasquez, allowing Sergio Gonzalez to score from third for the game’s first run.
Down 1-0 in the bottom of the second, Pfeiffer ran into some more trouble hitting El Monte’s leadoff hitter, Vicente Herrera, to put him on first. Nomar Perez singled, but Herrera was thrown out at second.
After another El Monte single, Randell Benitez connected with a ball to score Perez for the second Lions run of the game.
After an infield fly out, Hernandez doubled to left field, scoring another two runs for the Lions. Gonzalez ended the inning by bringing in another run on what looked to be a stand-up single, but was greedy and got thrown out at second.
Heading into the top of the third, the Lions (15-7-1) held a 5-0 lead.
El Monte opted to sub out their starting pitcher in favor of Joseph Herrera ahead of the fourth inning.
“I told them, ‘That’s a kick in the face because they are looking at Friday, so let’s make them pay for it,’” Franchimone said.
Heeding their coaches call, Luke Pfeiffer led off the inning with a huge double off the top of the left field wall. Carson Campuzano followed with an RBI triple into center field scoring Luke Pfeiffer from second.
Luke Pfeiffer went 2-for-3 in the game.
Jake Backes capped the scoring for the Knights (15-5), as El Monte’s center fielder dropped what would have been a routine pop out, driving in Campuzano from third base to cut the deficit to 5-2.
“They are clutch,” Franchimone said. “You never know, but they always come through. It’s just beautiful.”
Campuzano finished 1-for-3 with an RBI and Backes 2-for-4 with an RBI.
El Monte returned the favor in the bottom of the inning, getting a run back on an RBI single by Herrera to push the lead to four runs up 6-2.
The Lions made another pitching change in the top of the sixth inning, trusting Gonzalez to close out the final two innings.
Hearing encouraging words from the Trinity crowd and dugout, Backes led off the inning with a crushing double into center field. Judah Palmisano followed with a single into the 5-6 hole and Peyton Frazier was walked loading the bases for sophomore William Yumbar with no outs.
Palmisano finished the game 2-for 4.
Clearing the bases, Yumbar delivered a shot into left field cutting the deficit to one run down 6-5, but was thrown out sliding into third base. He finished the game 1-for-3 with three RBIs.
“It was big for us because it’s our future,” Franchimone said. “What he’s doing is that he’s showing us that he is capable. He’s the right man and we are honored to have him a part of our ball club.”
Andrew Pfeiffer did his job and kept the Lions off the scoreboard in a 1-2-3 inning. He pitched a complete game, giving up three earned runs, striking out two batters and walking two others.
Ahead 6-5 heading into the top of the seventh inning, the Lions made a bold decision to bring their starting pitcher, Herenandez, back on to get the final three outs of the game.
Getting the first two batters to groundout and strikeout, things looked good for Hernandez.
Capuzano walked and ‘Mr. Clutch,’ Backes, singled into left field to put the winning run on base with two outs to bring Palmisano up to bat.
Falling behind 0-2, Palmisano battled to back for a promising full count but was struck out to end the game and the season in a 6-5 loss.
“I’ve been a part of a lot of ball clubs, but this club is senior heavy and they are all special individuals,” said Trinity head coach Mike Franchimone. “I’m just honored to be a part of their lives and their futures and I know that they will all come back and visit and tell me about their lives. You can’t put a price tag on the relationships after the game. That’s what I’m about.”