Valencia defense shines in tie with Rio Mesa  

Valencia center fielder Will Verlaque (8) catches the ball during the first inning of Thursday's game against Rio Mesa on Feb. 15. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
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Strong defense and pitching by the Valencia Vikings was too much for the visiting Rio Mesa Spartans on Thursday.  

Eight innings wasn’t enough to declare a winner of the Easton Tournament game but the defensive battle was called early due to a lack of sunlight.  

Neither team could bring in runs in the 0-0 tie as Valencia’s defense was seemingly ready for every ball put in play while the offense had a mild day, stranding eight base runners.  

The Vikings (1-1-1) turned two 5-4-3 double plays to start the game and finished four innings with three up and three down.  

Valencia infielder Chad Stanchfield (2) throws the ball to second base during the third inning of Thursday’s game against Rio Mesa on Feb. 15. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

Third baseman Chad Stanchfield played a huge factor in both of those feats for Valencia. Stanchfield made several impressive stops at the hot corner before closing out the game on the mound.  

“We pitched very well and we played defense extremely well,” said Vikings coach Brad Meza. “When we can’t put it all together with guys in scoring position, this is what happens. Especially right now, when you run out of daylight early.” 

The senior right-handed pitcher went 2.1 innings, struck out two Spartans (1-1-1) and allowed just one hit.  

Valencia senior Braeden Chen got the start on the bump and kept the Rio Mesa offense at bay. Chen went a strong five innings and allowed just four hits, one walk with four strikeouts.  

Valencia pitcher Braeden Chen (28) throws a pitch during the fourth inning of Thursday’s game against Rio Mesa on Feb. 15. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

“We’ve been priding ourselves on those since my takeover two seasons ago, solid defense and solid pitching,” Meza said. “We’ll find ways to score runs. Today, unfortunately, we didn’t find too many ways to score runs there. But defensive play, that’s our MO. That’s our game.” 

Sophomore Justin Gaisford nearly got into prime scoring position after a deep hit to centerfield. Gaisfold had an easy double but took the gamble heading for third, where he was thrown out by an inch.  

Valencia senior Reid Farrell also played well and got on base after all three of his trips to the plate, behind two walks and a single. 

Valencia outfielder Reid Farrell (33) hits the ball during the second inning of Thursday’s game against Rio Mesa on Feb. 15. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

The Vikings’ best chance to score came in the bottom of the fourth in a three-on, two-out scenario. Rio Mesa starter Daniel Puebla was starting to lose command on the mound and walked three Vikings. The Spartans showed their trust in Puebla, leaving him in the jam, and the pitcher came through with a strikeout. 

Spartan senior Gavin Samora was another two-way standout in the game. Samora made some solid catches in centerfield, went a game-best 2-for-3 at the plate and closed out the game for Rio Mesa. 

Samora threw a clean 1.2 innings with no hits or walks.  

The Vikings took a tough Easton tournament loss, 7-6, on Tuesday at Alemany. The tournament features some of the premier teams in Southern California year after year, and includes five local Foothill League squads. 

“This tournament has a lot of good competition, that’s the best part about it,” Meza said. “I told the guys before the game that the only opponent that can beat them today is themselves.” 

Valencia infielder Lincoln Hunt (1) tags out a Rio Mesa runner at second base during the fifth inning of Thursday’s game against Rio Mesa on Feb. 15. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

Valencia enters 2024 with another huge senior class ready to defend its Foothill League title. The team retained a handful of key pieces from its 2023 championship season and will look to retool in hopes of a repeat.   

The Vikings have a few weeks left before league play begins and will look to keep growing in every outing. 

In the meantime, Valencia will keep competing in Easton play as the team heads to Granada Hills to take on the Highlanders on Saturday at 11 a.m. 

“In the meantime, we’ll just keep getting better and keep competing,” Meza said. “We want to see one of these tight games go our way soon. League does seem like it’s a while away but it’s going to come. I tell all these seniors every year, it comes and goes, and it’s gone. You blink and it’s all over.” 

Valencia first baseman Justin Gaisford (14) prepares to swing the ball during the seventh inning of Thursday’s game against Rio Mesa on Feb. 15. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
Valencia catcher Aiden Voyles (66) waits for a pitch during the first inning of Thursday’s game against Rio Mesa on Feb. 15. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
Valencia outfielder Jeremy Linow (4), infielder Gian Martinez (21) and centerfiedler Will Verlaque (8) celebrate a catch during the sixth inning of Thursday’s game against Rio Mesa on Feb. 15. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
Valencia first baseman Justin Gaisford (14) runs to second base during the third inning of Thursday’s game against Rio Mesa on Feb. 15. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

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