LA MIRADA BASEBALL
La Mirada~In a superbly played game from both sides, visiting Chino Hills rallied late for a 4-3 victory over La Mirada in the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Division II playoffs.
The loss painfully ended the Suburban League champion Matadores' season at 18-12 while Sierra League at-large Chino Hills (16-10) advances to a home date Tuesday with No. 3-seeded Notre Dame (23-5) in the second round.
La Mirada struck early on a first-inning leadoff walk to sophomore shortstop Andres Rodriguez and a one-out booming run-scoring double to the left-centerfield gap by the team's hottest hitter, junior designated hitter Nick Mandry.
The Matadores tacked on a run in the third by yet another leadoff base grab by Rodriguez, who drew his by-far team-leading seventh plunking, a beautiful hit-and-run single by senior Chris Perruzzi and another RBI by Mandry on a fielder's choice groundout to short.
With the stocky Mandry at second base following a surprising stolen base, senior catcher Chasen Holland-easily the team's most productive run-producer-scorched one but the Huskies' extremely talented shortstop snagged it in the hole, took a quick spin and fired to first for the out.
It was a microcosm of much of the season. When the Matadores hit the ball hard, it was often right at a glove or mere inches from leaving the park. In the fourth, senior pitcher Daniel Poncedeleon just missed clearing the 370-foot marker in center and an inning later Rodriguez fell just short in left on a towering fly.
A number of fine defensive gems on both sides highlighted the electric atmosphere of a packed Matadores Diamond. In the top of the first inning, junior secondbaseman Garrin Haile made a fine stop on a hard smash to his chest and Rodriguez leaped to snare the first out in the second. Junior firstbaseman Mike Piazza put a footnote on an outstanding defensive season with a number of rally-preventing plays, including getting purposely knocked off balance by a hard-charging runner at the bag in the sixth but keeping the presence of mind to fire to third to nab a runner trying to advance.
It wasn't the last time Piazza was targeted for revenge from his earlier aggressive faceplant tag on a pickoff play. In the bottom of the sixth, with the Matadores suddenly trailing, 4-2, Piazza walked to the plate for his turn at bat and was childishly shoved by the weak-minded catcher, the same player who tried to run him over at first in the top of the frame. Piazza made his retort the best way, though, with a line single to right to plate Mandry for a 4-3 deficit.
Poncedeleon, no stranger to pressure after two seasons of running for his life as QB1 behind a shaky offensive line, also ripped a clutch single to rightfield, bringing sophomore pinch-runner Max Gama to third. Poncedeleon moved to second on the throw to third, but junior Kyle Harper's hard smash was somehow fielded by the secondbaseman, who was spun around on the play. Defense certainly won this game for Chino Hills.
It was starting righthander Harper who pitched poetically again, increasing his steak of scoreless innings to 21 by blanking the Huskies the first three innings. In the fourth, though, a leadoff bloop single to center was cashed in to make it 2-1 after a seemingly bases-clearing double play ball was mishandled.
The Matadores clung to their lead until the sixth, when a tiring Harper allowed six straight hits, two of the first three Texas Leaguer-quality. A first-pitch, one-out double to the leftfield wall produced a 4-2 advantage that ultimately proved the Matadores' season-ending demise.
Poncedeleon, who was ragged unmercifully by the trash-talking guests during his warm-ups, closed with a masterful 1 2/3 innings, including a strikeout to end the disastrous sixth.
The homeplate umpire was no gem, either, calling ridiculously low tosses for first-pitch strikes to the first two batters in the Matadores' seventh, which ended with them retired in order.
It was a bitter conclusion, especially for the team's seven seniors, Holland, Perruzzi, Mike Reza, Erik Nicholoff, Adam Inzunza, Eugene Hernandez and Raul Dorantes. They performed admirably and courageously and will be sorely missed.
The future is bright with 15 returnees and some talented members from the JV team that once again went undefeated in league. Ever since the soon-to-be senior class started their first day of high school three fast years ago, 2010 has been targeted for a VERY big year.