Hart baseball can’t maintain early lead against El Camino in VIBL semifinal

Hart's Will Johnson watches the ball after a hit in a VIBL game against El Camino Real on Wednesday, July 17, 2019 at El Camino Real High School. Haley Sawyer/The Signal

The Hart baseball team didn’t want summer ball to end. 

After going up 4-3 through three innings of play against El Camino Real in the VIBL semifinals on the road Wednesday evening, it looked as if Hart would get its wish and advance to the VIBL final on Friday.

However, the Conquistadors were able to tack on five more runs combined in the fifth and sixth innings and the Indians comeback in the seventh inning fell short, resulting in an 8-6 loss. 

“It’s good to get a break for the kids, get their bodies some rest, but we wanted to go on to Friday and win on Friday,” said Hart assistant coach Brad Meza. “I think we made a lot of strides this summer which was very important. Guys got better and learned, that’s the best thing about summer ball.”

Hart jumped on El Camino early, scoring two runs in the first inning. Leadoff hitter Ryan Benz cracked the first pitch he saw for a double and then Will Johnson brought him home with an RBI single.

Johnson got to second base after Matt Quintanar grounded out and then scored after Isaac Kim hit a double.

Warner Rhodes started on the mound for Hart, and looked sharp, getting ahead of the pitch count against almost every batter he faced in his four innings of work.

Hart’s Warner Rhodes throws a pitch in a VIBL game against El Camino Real at El Camino Real High School on July 17, 2019. Haley Sawyer/The Signal

Rhodes logged two outs in the first inning by picking off two different baserunners at first and also recorded a strikeout, but gave up a solo home run to make it a 2-1 game after the first inning.

“That’s his m.o., he goes out there and throws strikes, gets ahead of batters,” Meza said about his starting pitcher. “His pickoff move, everybody knows it’s a really good move.”

The Indians added another run in the second inning, starting with a single to right field from Eddie Tejada. Tejada stole second and then got to third after Reagan Meyer grounded out.

Benz walked and then Johnson hit a double down the left-field line to score Tejada.

Benz finished the game 2-for-3 with two runs scored and Johnson went 3-for-4 with two RBIs and a run.

“We had really good at-bats with two strikes and two outs,” Meza said. “That’s what we’re trying to get to, a team that is relentless and they bulldog to the last out. Their performance with two strikes and two outs, it was great today.”

Hart’s Massimo Vega runs towards first base in a VIBL game against El Camino Real at El Camino Real High School on July 17, 2019. Haley Sawyer/The Signal

Hart took a 4-1 lead in the top of the third, with Malachi Soqui scoring after getting on base with a walk, then reaching home after a line-drive double from Massimo Vega.

El Camino scored two runs in the bottom of the third to bring the score to 4-3.

After the third, the Indians were held scoreless until the seventh inning and the Conquistadors put up two runs in the fifth and three runs in the sixth to take an 8-4 lead.

The Indians would not go down without a fight, as Benz got on base with a single, then stole second to lead off the final inning. 

Hart’s Matt Quintanar prepares to make the throw to second base in a VIBL game against El Camino Real at El Camino Real High School on Wednesday, July 17, 2019. Haley Sawyer/The Signal

Quintanar battled at the plate and hit a single off the foot of El Camino’s pitcher, reaching first base and advancing Benz to third, but got injured as he collided knees with El Camino’s first baseman. Quintanar had to leave the game with what Meza believes was a left knee contusion.

After Kim walked, Soqui hit a single to score Benz and load the bases. Ben Niednagel then hit into a fielder’s choice, but was able to score Robert Plante, who had come in for Quintanar after he left the game. 

It was all the Indians could muster, however.

“Hats off to them, they are a good ball club, their banners speak for themselves. But at the end of the day, we’re here to compete every single day,” Meza said. “We didn’t roll over when we had the game on the line and we go out and put a couple runs on the board in the first inning. It shows that there’s no fear, they are ready to go from pitch one. We’re getting better every day and we have grit, it’s huge.”

Westlake 9, Saugus 1

The Saugus Centurions traveled to Westlake to take on the Warriors on Wednesday evening. Saugus got down 9-0 and could not mount a comeback in the VIBL semifinal matchup, concluding its summer baseball schedule.

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