By Justin Vigil-Zuniga
Signal Sports Writer
The Indians (20-9, 11-1) were pushed to their limits in their 4-3 league championship victory over the Valencia Vikings (15-11, 9-3).
Hart designated hitter Ryan De La Maza won the game with a walk-off single to score catcher Matt Quintanar and end their marathon game in the bottom of the 10th inning.
De La Maza came up clutch, knocking down his only hit of the day when the Indians needed it most.
The designated hitter gets all the credit for the game-winning RBI but this game was a pitcher’s duel.
Troy Cooper of Hart and Mat Chapman of Valencia started the game and came out smoking.
Cooper opened up aggressively on the mound and registered an immaculate opening inning. The sophomore struck out six of his first eight batters.
Chapman understood and matched the tone set by his counterpart. The big 6-foot-5 righty retired nine of his first 10 batters.
Valencia knew if Chapman could keep up the heat, they’d find a way.
In the top of the third, Vikings first baseman Jose Mariano capped off a 10-pitch at-bat with a walk. Left fielder Asher Frye then got the first hit of the day, getting two on with two out for Valencia. Designated hitter Chris Kishel then delivered with a big RBI double after striking out in his first at-bat. Kishel and Frye would then both score after the second error on the day from Hart shortstop Brayden Jeffris.
Cooper shook off the rally and struck out his next batter.
Hart wasted no time and answered, first behind another dinger from slugger Matt Quintanar.
“Both teams competed but I’m glad I’ve got Quintanar on my side who can do a lot of things,” said Hart head coach Jim Ozella.
Quintanar finished a team-high 2-4 with two runs scored.
Biggs then walked two consecutive batters, allowing left fielder Mike Hogen to tie the game with a huge base-clearing RBI double down the third baseline.
Chapman’s day was done after giving up the three runs and Vikings head coach Brad Meza would call upon relief pitcher Ricky Ojeda to keep Valencia in the game.
“Told [Ricky] early on, you’re a junior,” said Meza. “Your job is to come out in the middle of games and keep us close. That’s what he did all game and that’s the longest we’ve extended him in a while. All in all, he did a great job.”
After starting 0-2, Valencia leadoff man Scottie Pieper finally barrelled one of Cooper’s pitches and hit a single in the fifth.
Pieper hit a game-high 3-5.
Cooper ended his day by stranding the leadoff hitter after striking out Mariano. The starter notched the no-decision with eight strikeouts through five innings.
Relief pitcher Mike Rogozik then came on, in hopes to keep one of the best-hitting teams in the Foothill League ice cold.
Ojeda and Rogozik also showed out in their battle for the league title.
Rogozik kept Valencia scoreless and both pitchers fanned five.
Both teams then went scoreless until the 10th inning.
Valencia shortstop Evan Jaquez saved the Vikings and sent the game to extra innings with a great diving stop of a ground ball from Reagan Meyer.
“We’re not going to go peak, we’re going to keep climbing,” said Meza. “Our defense is good and keeping us in ball games. We’re going to find ways to score runs but pitching and defense is going to win you ball games.”
Each team showcased quality defense with a lot of fight, showing how badly they both wanted this win.
Hart’s 6-foot-7 lefty Chris Downs entered in relief in the 10th and final inning. Downs gave up one hit but got into a good spot with two outs. The Indians intentionally walked Kishel, bringing up hitless catcher Aiden Voyles.
Downs would get the best of Voyles with a low and away ball but the ball just got away from Quintanar. Voyles recognized the mishap right away and made it to first base, loading the bases for power hitter Noah Nichols.
Downs could feel the same pressure as in his previous game where he was pulled early. The junior pitcher worked the count before striking out Nichols. Downs dealt a crushing blow at Valencia while Hart seized the momentum and ran.
Quintanar knocked down his first base hit of the day in the bottom of the 10th. The reigning league MVP stole second and got to third on a wild pitch.
Indians first baseman Ryan Egan was then intentionally walked for the second time in the game, inevitably bringing up the steady-hitting De La Maza, who was just having an off day before his walk-off single.
“Honestly, going up to hit, I wasn’t trying to think too much,” said De La Maza. “I had to be simple and go the other way. Thanks to Matt Quintanar [and] his single and stolen bases, I got the opportunity to step up and give my seniors one more title.”
The Indians rushed the field and dog-piled after their junior designated hitter came up huge and delivered the seniors their second consecutive league title.
Meza managed to spoil his former team’s perfect season but fell just an inch short of stealing their crown.
However, the first-year skipper has all the respect from his former coach. After all, he revived Valencia baseball to its normal winning standard and he’s just getting started.
Both teams will head into their division’s playoffs Thursday. The four Foothill League teams moving on — Hart, Valencia, West Ranch and Saugus — were set to find out their fate on Monday when CIF baseball playoff brackets were to be announced.
“We feel great going into playoffs,” said De La Maza. “If we keep playing like we have been then we can go far. The job isn’t done yet!”