Valencia Vikings baseball out-hit and out-fanned the visiting Westlake Warriors in Thursday’s CIF Division 3 playoff opener. However, a handful of walks and errors added up to a 5-2 win for Westlake on a rainy day at Valencia.
The Warriors finished with four hits on the day but were able to pull away in the top of the seventh with a long rally.
Westlake capitalized on nearly every Valencia mishap. For Valencia skipper Brad Meza, little things added up to an early exit for his 2023 squad.
“We needed a little better execution on offense and had a lot of walks on our end,” Meza said.
“I think three of their five runs came off leadoff walks. If we can field some bunts and force a few outs, maybe it’s a different outcome.”
Senior Ricky Ojeda got the start for the Vikings. Ojeda started off hot with a three-strikeout inning to open up the game and the offense quickly followed. Valencia third baseman Lance Mittelman doubled on the first pitch of the game off Warriors ace Andrew Cusworth. Senior Abe Shelofsky brought in Mittelman in the next at-bat to spark a two-run first inning.
Valencia had set the tone for what could’ve been a long day for Westlake but the Warriors were able to answer immediately.
Ojeda was battling illness as well as on-and-off rain, leading the Warriors to tie the game off four walks in the second inning. The first two of five unanswered runs came off walks with the bases loaded to tie the game in the second.
The UCI-commit Ojeda didn’t get his normal weekly pitching routine but Meza couldn’t be disappointed in his ace, citing him as the main reason the team reached their peak.
“Ricky didn’t have his best stuff today but he’s the main reason we got to this point,” Meza said. “He’s been the dude for us all year long.”
Ojeda was pulled in the fifth inning after his six-strikeout varsity finale. Valencia’s second big pitcher Matthew Sherwood entered to keep the Vikes in the game. The 6-foot, 5-inch righty struck out three batters with no walks in his three innings on the mound but the Vikings just couldn’t find answers at the plate.
Valencia knocked in three hits in its first three at-bats but could only muster up three hits after the third inning.
Shortstop Evan Jaquez led all players with two hits.
Westlake now advances and returns home to host San Clemente.
Meza was nonetheless proud of how far his team has come not only this season, but also in his two years at the helm of the program. Several varsity players entered the year as 2022 Foothill League JV champions and brought a winning mentality to the 2023 league champs.
“They worked their tails off,” Meza said. “We’ve been on them since day one when I came in. This group of seniors and varsity guys, some of them were JV champs last year so they had that winning mentality from last year. We had a playoff atmosphere and intensity in our practices and our non-leagues.”
Valencia will return the bulk of its league championship roster next season. Meza is yet again optimistic for the future of the program, with his young but mature team coming back as veterans on and off the field.
“They’ve matured a lot as baseball players and people,” Meza said. “We want to see them grow and be successful at whatever they do. Guys come back and thank you for preparing them for that.”
As for the seniors, Mittelman is heading north to play at San Francisco. Sherwood will continue his career on the mound at Pacific Life. Ojeda will take the mound at UC Irvine while a few other seniors will look for the right path collegiately.
The 12 seniors will graduate in a few weeks and hold a special place in Meza’s life.
“I couldn’t thank this senior class enough,” Meza said. “They came up to varsity the year I came in. They’re my first two-year varsity players. They’ve shaped what it means to be part of this program and have set the standard. I can’t thank those guys enough.”