Sports

Late game heroics aid in Highlanders fast start in Anaheim Lions Tournament

La Habra's Chris Nuanes reacts after making contact with a pitch against Los Altos in the first game of a doubleheader at home in the Anaheim Lions Tournament, Saturday afternoon.
La Habra’s Chris Nuanes reacts after making contact with a pitch against Los Altos in the first game of a doubleheader at home in the Anaheim Lions Tournament, Saturday afternoon. PHOTOS BY JAY SEIDEL, LA HABRA JOURNAL

by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal

Locked in a pitchers’ duel, the La Habra baseball team got key production from the heart of its batting order in the eighth inning, leading to a 2-0 extra-inning win over West Covina, Saturday afternoon at home in the Anaheim Lions Tournament.

After failing to cash in with runners in scoring position during the fifth and sixth innings, the Highlanders, who were the designated visiting team, loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth inning after the Bulldogs (6-5) went to relief pitcher Donovyn Curiel.

Garrett Molnar then lined a curveball from Curiel into right-center field to score pinch-hitter Brad Hoffrichter from third base to break the scoreless tie.

“I was just looking for a fastball to drive out to right-center field, but [Curiel] hung me a curveball and I had to stay back on it,” Molnar said. “My dad and I have been going to the park and working on driving pitches the opposite way, so when he threw it, I just stuck with it and put it where I wanted. Earlier, we were just trying to get a run across and when we didn’t, it took away some momentum, but we knew we had to compete until the game was over.”

Two batters later, catcher Michael Borg added a sacrifice fly to score Chris Nuanes and Ricky Garcia pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom half of the eighth inning to preserve the win and a 2-0 tournament start.

“That’s the big difference with this group, they grind it out, they find a way,” said John Sothern, La Habra head coach. “Last year’s group would have folded at the first mistake, but this year’s group didn’t, they just kept chipping away and we found a way to win.”

The runs in the eighth inning were celebrated most by starting pitcher Andrew Gallegos, who pitched seven innings, allowing three hits while striking out six batters and walking two to earn his third win of the season.

“He was good, he was lights out in the fall, but struggled after Christmas break and dropped to the No. 2 spot,” Sothern said. “His last two starts have been good. His struggle early was getting behind batters and allowing walks, but today he was efficient with his pitches and threw them for strikes. He kept us in the game.”

La Habra's Cody Sciacca makes a catch near the warning track during the Highlanders' 3-1 win over Los Altos, Saturday afternoon at home.
La Habra’s Cody Sciacca makes a catch near the warning track during the Highlanders’ 3-1 win over Los Altos, Saturday afternoon at home.

Gallegos came out strong from the start and consistently worked ahead in the count and threw first pitch strikes.

Garcia earned his third save, despite loading the bases with no outs.

“I just wanted to hit my spots, I’ve been struggling lately hitting those spots and I felt good today,” Gallegos said. “I’ve been trusting in my stuff in these last two games and getting first pitch strikes was big for me today, it helped me to get ahead in the count.”

Gallegos got plenty of help from his defense, including outfield assists from Molnar in left field and Nuanes in right field.

West Covina’s Ryan Viramontes hit a sharp liner to the corner in left field that one-hopped the outfield fence in the fourth inning.

However, Molnar, starting in left field for the first time this season, barehanded the ball off the fence and fired to second base, where Viramontes was tagged out trying to stretch the single to a double.

In the sixth inning, Nuanes played a fly ball in right field and threw out Viramontes again, this time as he was trying to advance to third on the out.

“I wasn’t going to let him get to second base, so I threw a hose over there,” Molnar said of his play in the fourth inning.

In the eighth inning, Garcia gave up a leadoff single, walked a batter and Victor Meraz reached on an error by third baseman Carlos Lomeli to load the bases.

However, Lomeli collected a ground ball and threw to home for the first out, Garcia got a strikeout and Viramontes flied out to center field to end the eight-inning contest.

West Covina starting pitcher Anthony Deeter through six shutout innings, allowing four hits while striking out two batters and walking three others.

The Highlanders (6-3) earned a 3-1 victory over Los Altos in their first game of the day. Robert Leffler earned the pitching win, his third of the season, while Gallegos and Cody Sciacca came up with RBI triples in the fourth and sixth innings to put La Habra ahead.

“We just want more of the same,” Sothern said of the team moving forward. “We don’t want to play too up or down depending on who we’re facing. We just need to keep coming out, have good pitching performances, play good defense and execute when called upon and hopefully we can continue this run.”

The Highlanders will continue play in the Anaheim Lions Tournament with a Monday afternoon game against West Torrance at 3 p.m.

Started in 1995, the La Habra Journal is an independent community news source serving the cities of La Habra and La Habra Heights.