Valencia baseball falls to Harvard-Westlake in rematch of last year’s first-round playoff game

Valencia first baseman Matt Cotti (25) makes the tag on Harvard-Westlake baserunner George Cooper (1) in a run-down in the seventh inning at Valencia on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal
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The first round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 1 baseball playoffs brought a rematch of last year’s first-round game between Valencia and Harvard-Westlake, which the Vikings won 8-4 on the road.

On Thursday afternoon at Valencia High School, the Wolverines returned the favor, defeating the Vikings 7-1 behind a tremendous pitching performance from Vanderbilt commit Sam Hliboki.

Hliboki struck out 12 Valencia batters in a complete game, with the only Vikings run coming in the first inning off of an error.

“We knew coming in we were going to face one of the better arms in Southern California, if not the country,” said Valencia third baseman Davis Cop. “Sam is a great pitcher. He went after us. His stuff was working and it just wasn’t our day.”

“He’s a great pitcher, he had extra motivation from last year because we were able to score eight runs off him in the playoff game when we knocked them out last year,” said Valencia head coach Mike Killinger. “He came out with a vengeance and pitched great. You got to tip your hat to him.”

Harvard-Westlake didn’t waste any time, putting up two runs in the first inning. After Valencia’s starting pitcher Tyler Robitaille got the first two batters to ground out, he walked two batters in a row.

Valencia’s Tyler Robitaille (23) pitches against Harvard-Westlake at Valencia on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal

JP Corrigan hit a blooper that scored Michael Snyder and then Tyler Ganus blasted a ball that took a weird bounce, seemingly off a sprinkler head, that scored Drew Bowser and gave the Wolverines an early 2-0 lead.

“We had some tough balls, hits the sprinkler head, hits the dirt funny, stuff like that. It’s baseball, you can’t do anything about that,” Cop said. “(Hliboki) was fantastic on the mound, he had a better day than we did with the bats and you tip your cap to him. They were the better team today but that’s just kind of how baseball works.”

Cop got on base with a double to lead off the bottom of the first after Harvard-Westlake center fielder Pete Crow-Armstrong lost the ball in the sun. Kyle Barileau moved Cop to third with a sacrifice bunt and Brock Kleszcz scored Cop and reached base off a Wolverines infielder error.

It was the only run Valencia was able to manufacture on the afternoon.

Harvard-Westlake put up another two runs in the top of the fourth inning, starting with a single from Jacob Galloway. George Cooper came up next and hit a double to bring Galloway home.

Sam Biller bunted and reached first, leading to a pitching change for Valencia as Mitchell Torres came in to face one batter. Torres got Crow-Armstrong to fly out, but Cooper was able to score. Ryan Kysar then took over on the mound with Torres moving back to first, and the junior was able to get out of the inning.

The top of the fifth spelled trouble for Kysar, as he walked four batters in a row to give the Wolverines a 5-1 lead. Torres went back on the hill and got Cooper to hit a ground ball, but like earlier, it took a strange bounce that made it hard for shortstop Sean Ogrin to control. Corrigan and Ganus crossed home to make the score 7-1.

Valencia’s Grant Weiss (24) gets a hit against Harvard-Westlake at Valencia on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal

After the game, Killinger gathered his team and told his players how proud he is of what they accomplished this season.

He then took the seven seniors aside and personally thanked them for their contributions, and for helping to lay the groundwork for future Valencia baseball teams.

“Us as a coaching staff, we’re really proud of everything they’ve done. These guys showed all the younger guys the right path for baseball here at Valencia and they were able to lead us specifically to a league title this year,” Killinger said about his seniors. “I gathered them up to say thank you and tell them if they ever need anything in life, we’re here for them.”

“We’ve come a long way, we started with 21 guys in our freshman class, we’re down to seven seniors today,” Cop said. “A league championship was not what would have been expected, it’s not what would have been predicted. We’ve come a really long way on the field and off the field. We’re super proud of each other and what this team has been able to.”

As for next season, the Vikings return a bevy of talented players that will remember how Thursday’s loss felt and use it to fuel their fire.

“We’re going to be really driven off of this game and how it does not define us. Next year we’ll come out and have that chip on our shoulder,” Torres said. “We’ll play every game to win and I hope we get another league championship, and hopefully make a good run in the playoffs next year.”

West Ranch 3, Foothill 2

The Wildcats jumped on the Knights early on the road on Thursday, scoring three runs combined in the first two innings to secure a first-round victory in the CIF-SS Division 1 playoffs.

After hitting a double in the first inning, Jovan Camacho reached home on a sacrifice fly from Nicholas Perez. Nikko Clarke then hit a double to score Garret Monheim, who had reached base after getting hit by a pitch.

In the second inning, Sam Callan got on a base with a single, followed by Ryan Camacho reaching base after being hit by a pitch. Jovan Camacho was walked, loading the bases for the Wildcats. Monheim was then walked, giving West Ranch a 3-0 lead.

Foothill scored one run in the bottom of the third and one in the bottom of the fifth, and had a chance in the bottom of the seventh with two runners on and no outs. Trent Bird was able to strike out two batters and force a pop up, giving West Ranch the win.

Ryan Camacho went 2-for-2 and Jovan Camacho went 2-for-3 with a run scored. Monheim went 1-for-2 with an RBI and run scored. Perez and Clarke both went 1-for-3 with an RBI. Callan also finished 1-for 3.

JD Callahan pitched 4 2/3 innings, allowing five hits and one earned run along with three strikeouts. Bird pitched 2 1/3 innings, striking out five and giving up two hits.

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