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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
Village Christian High’s baseball team won the Olympic League last season and is currently on top of the circuit this season. But Valley Christian High first-year head coach Roger Penticoff doesn’t consider Village Christian High better than his team.
In fact, he considers Valley Christian one of the top teams in the league, and after his team nearly rallied to knock off the other V.C. Crusaders, this one from Sun Valley, it’s easy to see why Valley Christian is considered a threat.
Valley Christian rallied twice from two-run deficits and had the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh inning before falling to Village Christian 6-4 this past Tuesday evening. Valley Christian dropped to 9-6 overall and 2-3 in league play.
“I had no issues with the heart that these guys have,” Penticoff said. “They hit the ball well; they played good defense. We just let a couple of opportunities get by us and it hurt.”
Village Christian got to junior starter Brett Garcia in the first inning for a pair of runs as Michael Choi singled home Connor Rodriguez and Josh Argarin scored on a wild pitch. Garcia would throw 27 pitches in the inning which would lead to a high pitch count towards the end of the game.
But Valley Christian would come back in its half of the frame. Senior shortstop Travis French doubled to left field and with two outs, came home on a double down the right field line from senior right fielder Kyle Bowie. Three pitches later, he would tie the game when sophomore second baseman James Stirton was safe on an error.
The game remained tied until the fourth when Jake Whisenant and Nick Rolls hit back to back doubles. In the next inning, Garcia walked Rodriguez to lead off the frame and after moving on a wild pitch and a groundout, scored on a sacrifice fly from Argarin.
Garcia would help himself out in the bottom of the fifth when he launched a two-run home run over the left field fence with senior center fielder R.J. Van Kampen coming in before Garcia. Just two innings earlier, Valley Christian had a chance to take a 3-2 lead when Garcia singled and stole second in between the 11th and 12th pitch thrown to Bowie, who would eventually strikeout after seeing 13 pitches from Tobias Plotkin.
“At the time, I wasn’t thinking about sending Brett,” Penticoff said. “Brett is my pitcher and I’m figuring I really don’t want him running the bases. But throughout that entire at-bat, they made one move to Brett. So, I’m thinking, okay, I’m just going to send him.
“Kyle’s at-bat was just phenomenal,” he continued. “I couldn’t ask for anything more from him. He battled, battled, battled and ended up striking out. But again, he put a lot of pitches on that putcher and I’ll take that all day long.”
With Garcia’s pitch count approaching 100 entering the sixth inning, he went out there and avoided further damage when he got a pop-up and a groundout after Whisenant singled with one out, moved to second on an error and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Garcia finished the game scattering four hits and striking out three. But he did issue half a dozen walks.
“He gutted it out,” Penticoff said. “This wasn’t Brett’s best performance. [He threw] too many walks, but he got big outs when he needed to get big outs. He is a battler out there.”
After Village Christian scored twice in the seventh inning on a run-scoring single from Argarin and a run-scoring double from Choi, the hosts still had enough to make it interesting. With two outs, French singled, Van Kampen doubled and Garcia was issued an intentional walk. Eric Oseguera then got Bowie to strike out on a 2-2 count. French, Garcia and senior starting catcher Christian Bosse all collected a pair of hits. The game was a far cry from the league opener on Mar. 14 when Village Christian won 12-2.
“I think we can play right with them as we proved today,” Penticoff said. “If we cut down our walks today, we win this game.”
The two teams will meet tonight for the third and final time in the regular season with Valley Christian as the visiting team. Valley Christian will then host St. Anthony High on Tuesday night. As for the remainder of the league season, Penticoff is confident his team can remain on the heels of Maranatha High and Village Christian, both of whom are tied for first place.
“Maranatha, to me, is loaded,” Penticoff said. “They are good one through nine and they have three excellent pitchers. In my opinion, they are the team to beat. Will we compete? Well, we’re going to give it our best. R.J. is going to be throwing on Friday at Village. We get our chance at Maranatha again and we’ll see what happens. But they’re loaded.”