Hart baseball back on track after blowout win against Golden Valley

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The bats were swinging, and they were swinging hard for Hart on Wednesday afternoon after it halted a three-game skid with a 25-2 victory over Golden Valley at Golden Valley High School.

The bats were incredibly efficient for the Indians as they scored 25 runs off of 21 hits and reached base 37 times with 14 walks and two errors.

“We just came off of a couple losses and came out swinging,” said Hart sophomore catcher Matt Quintanar. “We spent a lot of time in the cage yesterday. We saw a lot of fastballs today. We worked on hitting fastballs and capitalized on that.”

All seemed well when Golden Valley freshman pitcher Ricardo Ojeda held the Indians to just one run and two hits in the first inning. Ojeda even struck out two batters in the opening frame, including one on a watched pitch.

However, disaster was just around the corner.

Indians junior pitcher Ben Niednagel responded to Ojeda’s first inning with an even better one of his own. Through four batters, he only allowed one hit to the Grizzlies’ opening at bat. He then retired the next three batters efficiently, including two strikeouts. 

In the second inning, the manic meltdown began.

The Indians (5-3 overall, 1-0 Foothill League) sent 14 batters to the plate and scored nine runs in the second inning. They also racked up Ojeda’s pitch count early in the game by putting themselves in hitter’s counts early and often. 

“We fell behind in the count and our secondary pitches weren’t there,” said Golden Valley head coach Matt Sorensen. “They were sitting dead red and they didn’t miss too many of them.”

They reached base five times off of walks and put themselves in three full counts. To top off the inning junior shortstop Ryan Benz (3-for-7, two runs, four RBIs) hit a two-run home run to left field to further deflate the Grizzly bullpen.

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Senior centerfielder Deryk Engbrecht finally stopped the bleeding for the Grizzlies (2-5, 0-1) on a double play. He collected the short flyball to centerfield on the first bounce and flipped it to senior second baseman Erik Baez-Gaxiola who turned and threw it on a rope to senior first baseman Chase Hwang.

The Indians had two other innings where the entire lineup saw the plate at least once.

Licking their wounds, the Grizzlies went back up to bat in the bottom of the second, but Niednagel retired them in order and tallied another strikeout in a one-two-three inning. 

“I was really trying to get ahead of guys and throw fewer pitches,” Niednagel said. “I knew I had my defense behind me so I worked on throwing strikes instead of trying to strike everyone out.”

The Grizzlies continued to struggle against him during the entire four innings that he took the mound. During that stretch he pitched a shutout, allowing three hits and tallied four strikeouts.

“We want our starters going deep,” said Hart head coach Jim Ozella. “We want our starters giving our bullpen an easier game. Zeros, that’s what our goal is.”

Niednagel showed versatility. He was efficient at the plate, going 1-for-2 with a double in his first at bat. He also scored a run after getting walked in his second at bat but grounded out in his third. 

“My first at bat was good with that double,” he said. “I just got a couple out in front of my next two at bats.”

Quintanar was also efficient from the plate. He batted 4-for-5, driving in two runs and scoring three times himself.

“I was seeing the ball real well today,” Quintanar said. “Just trying to barrel it up and it happened pretty good.”

The Grizzlies woes didn’t necessarily end, but things looked better when they finally got on the board in the fifth inning. Senior Evan Swailes led off the inning and reached on an error from Hart junior right fielder Will Johnson. 

Swailes got into scoring position and reached as far as third base before senior shortstop Josh Lee drove him in on a single. Lee was then driven in on a double by senior third baseman Logan Rightmyer on a triple. Those were the only two points scored by the Grizzlies.

“We did well. We got ahead and didn’t allow too many guys to get walks and hit by pitches,” Niednagel said of his team’s pitching. “It was a good job.”

They ended the frame trailing Hart 16-2.

The Indians continued to tack on nine unanswered runs, including seven in the final frame to complete a dominant outing to start Foothill League competition.

“I’m happy about the performance,” Ozella said. “You don’t like scores like this, but we’re just trying to play hard. We played tough competition in our first seven games. That’s all for preparation for league.”

The Grizzlies and Indians will meet again Friday at Hart High School. The game is at 3 p.m.

“Just get a better start,” said Sorensen on what he hopes to improve before meeting with Hart again. “Coming out the gate and being the aggressor.”

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