Banuelos tosses gem, West Ranch baseball tops Castaic 

West Ranch's Jackson Banuelos (55) pitches during the third inning of Thursday's game against Castaic on March 7. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
West Ranch's Jackson Banuelos (55) pitches during the third inning of Thursday's game against Castaic on March 7. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
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West Ranch Wildcats senior Jackson Banuelos said he always feels like he’s on top of his game. 

The left-handed pitcher showed what that looks like Thursday at home against the Castaic Coyotes (3-5, 0-1), striking out 13 batters while giving up just one hit over 6 1/3 innings pitched as the Wildcats (6-2-1, 1-0) took the Foothill League opener, 2-1. 

“I feel like I’m at the top of my game every game, no matter what,” Banuelos said. “It’s just a matter of if I lock everything in.” 

The Cal State Northridge commit was certainly locked in on Thursday as he was perfect through five innings before a roughly hourlong delay after the top of the fifth due to lightning in the area disrupted his rhythm. He said sitting in the dugout during that time was “terrible,” but there was no doubt in his mind that he’d be back out there once the game resumed. 

“The circumstances couldn’t get any worse,” Banuelos said, “but I pushed through it, their pitcher pushed through it, and it was fine.” 

West Ranch's Ashton Tsukashima (3) slides into second base against Castaic senior Anthony Luna (9) during the fifth inning of Thursday's game on March 7. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
West Ranch’s Ashton Tsukashima (3) slides into second base against Castaic senior Anthony Luna (9) during the fifth inning of Thursday’s game on March 7. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

Using a healthy mix of breaking balls to go along with a solid fastball, Castaic’s hitters had trouble putting the ball in play. West Ranch head coach Ryan Lindgreen said it’s the type of performance that Banuelos has been putting up since January. 

Banuelos lowered his season ERA to 1.53 and improved his record to 2-0 through four appearances on the mound. He has now struck out 31 batters in just 18 1/3 innings pitched, allowing only 13 hits, all singles, in that time. 

“We’ve really liked what he’s been able to do leading up to this point,” Lindgreen said. “We have high expectations for him, he has high expectations for himself, and we’ve been seeing that.” 

The two teams were deadlocked at 0-0 through five innings before the Wildcats were able to break through against Castaic pitcher Tyler Hawn with two runs in the bottom of the sixth. 

West Ranch second baseman Landon Hu started things off with a double followed by a one-out walk for catcher Nolan Stoll. With two outs, left fielder Ashton Tsukushima doubled on the second pitch he saw to drive home both runners. 

Castaic senior Tyler Hawn (4) pitches during the second inning of Thursday's game against West Ranch on March 7. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
Castaic senior Tyler Hawn (4) pitches during the second inning of Thursday’s game against West Ranch on March 7. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

“I was just hunting fastball early,” Tsukushima said, adding that the tightly contested battle felt like a playoff environment. “First pitch, swung and missed. I was really out in front, so I just sat back on it, tried to drive it to the (opposite field).” 

Tsukushima and Hu each had two of the five hits for West Ranch on the day. 

Hawn pitched all six innings for Castaic, allowing five hits and a walk while striking out four. Coyotes head coach Darrell Davis said there was a conversation with the senior about possibly coming out during the delay, but Hawn told him he was “ready to go.” 

“We asked him, he said, ‘No, I want to go, coach,’” Davis said. “He went all the way to the end there.” 

West Ranch’s Ricky Sturm got the final two outs for West Ranch in the top of the seventh, entering the game with the bases loaded. The submarine-style pitcher was able to induce a ground ball for a double play to end the game. 

West Ranch's Nolan Stoll (11) runs to home plate and celebrates with teammates during the sixth inning of Thursday's game against Castaic on March 7. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
West Ranch’s Nolan Stoll (9) runs to home plate and celebrates with teammates during the sixth inning of Thursday’s game against Castaic on March 7. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

“The submariner is always something different and it’s hard to game plan for,” Lindgreen said. “We’ll see if people catch on or not, but it’s good.” 

The Coyotes are still searching for their identity this season, Davis said, after the team graduated a cohort of key players from last year’s CIF Southern Section and state champion squad. But Davis isn’t worried and is simply waiting for some of his younger players to get some experience. 

“The future’s bright here at Castaic,” Davis said. “Our lower level is really good, both teams are really good. We’re here to battle. We’re fine.” 

The Wildcats are on a mission for their first Foothill League title since 2016. West Ranch has finished in the top three in the league every year since. 

Castaic junior Jacob De La Cruz (11) slides into second base during the sixth inning of Thursday's game against West Ranch on March 7. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
Castaic junior Jacob De La Cruz (11) slides into second base during the sixth inning of Thursday’s game against West Ranch on March 7. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

“It’s a great way to start,” Banuelos said. “I think we’re going to use this as fire and it’s going to keep us going all the way until whenever the end of season is.” 

Thursday’s game was meant to be played on Wednesday before rain forced it to be pushed back a day. 

The two teams met again on Friday, but this time at Castaic High School. The Wildcats won that game as well, 11-3. 

West Ranch is next scheduled to play on Wednesday when the Wildcats host Canyon.  

Castaic is set to play a couple of non-league games, hosting the Burbank Bulldogs on Saturday and traveling to play the Eastside Lions on Monday. The Coyotes are set to return to Foothill League action on Wednesday with a road game at Golden Valley. 

West Ranch's Hunter Manning (10) bunts during the fifth inning of Thursday's game on March 7. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal
West Ranch’s Hunter Manning (10) bunts during the fifth inning of Thursday’s game on March 7. Habeba Mostafa/ The Signal

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