Story and photos by Erik Markus
La Habra Journal
The Heralds’ baseball team had to persevere, but held on to an early four-run lead to knock out Cabrillo of Lompoc, Wednesday at home, to advance to the quarterfinals of the CIF-SS Division 5 playoffs.
Mike Rafter pitched through trouble to maintain the 4-3 final score and Brett Greene slammed to door in the seventh inning to push Whittier Christian into the next round.
The Heralds came out of the gate swinging. Mike Rafter singled and Cooper Hughes doubled down the third base line. With runners on second and third, Mike Rubio caught the infield off guard, leading to the Heralds’ first run.
“Execution offense in that first inning, we forced the issue a little bit, guys souled out, made plays, and four runs later, that’s a nice start for your pitcher,” said Brent Lavoie, Heralds head coach.
Joseph Cobian stuck his bat out and hit a slow dribbler towards the shortstop. Cooper Hughes scored easily, while Rubio and Cobian took an extra base on an overthrow.
With runners on second and third base, Mike Rubio scored on a groundout from Brett Greene and Joseph Cobian crossed the plate on a squeeze bunt from Brian Rafter.
Through four innings Rafter pitched his way through jams with minimal help from the umpires. As the Conquistadores began to see more pitches from Rafter, their at bats began to lead to run production.
In the fifth inning, Cabrillo’s Boomer Duffey doubled to left-center field, his second double on the afternoon. Brett Gregory drove him home with a single. Oswaldo Medina added another single to put runners on first and second base.
Feeling the pressure, the Conquistadores attempted a double steal, which led to a second run crossing the plate when Hughes’ throw got past Rubio’s glove at third base.
With two outs in the sixth inning, the Heralds’ grasp on the lead began to unravel.
A pitch from Mike Rafter skipped past Hughes, which put a runner at second base. Alex Aguilar brought Cabrillo within one run with a double to left. Dakota Veltkamp made a strong throw to cut down the runner at home, but the throw was cut off before it reached the plate.
Brett Greene came in to relieve Rafter, and induced a popout to escape the jam.
“I just had confidence in our guys, that game at Mary Star last week had a real similar ending, so I think that switch of been-here-done-that went off, you couldn’t tell that those guys played timid, they just keep playing the game” Lavoie said.
With the end in sight, Greene cruised through the seventh inning to grab the save for the Heralds.
Greene’s confidence does not reflect a player who has been on varsity for only a month, but his contributions have come at an important time.
Greene has received help from some of the leaders on the team like Rubio, Cobian and Mike Rafter and appreciated the chance to come in to relieve Rafter.
“It felt really good to be the one to win the game, it feels really great,” Greene said.
Mike Rafter took on the challenge of shutting down Cabrillo (18-13), which was fresh off a 12-inning upset of Woodcrest Christian last Friday.
Rafter struck out two in the first inning and reaped the benefit of two double plays in the second and third inning.
“We’ve turned more double plays in the past two games than we did in the past twelve games,” Lavoie said.
The Heralds have needed to adjust when Mike Rafter pitches, and have seen multiple players manning second base, but today Logan Veloff took on the challenge.
Veloff held down second base with no issues and gave his best effort with the stick in the second inning with a double between two shallow outfielders in center field and right field. Veloff continued to give the outfielders fits when he hit a bloop single in his second at bat.
“At the mid point in the year he started taking some pitches, and now he’s more in attack mode,” Lavoie said. “(Veloff’s) having success hitting the ball hard, even when he gets out.”
With a home game Friday against Big Bear High School, the Heralds (17-12) will need to continue their focus.
“Sometimes home teams can get a little too comfy in their own element,” Lavoie said.