Late scratch hurts Highlanders in an attempt to sweep Fullerton
by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
Opting not to start pitcher Andrew Gallegos due to arm tightness, the La Habra baseball team had to try to come up with a quick solution on the mound in its final matchup against Fullerton, Thursday afternoon.
While Gallegos still played center field, the pitching staff struggled to throw strikes in the third and fourth innings, issuing seven walks and allowing four runs as the Indians defeated the Highlanders 6-1 and avoided a sweep by La Habra.
“We needed to get this win, we saw the chance to battle for second place and La Habra is sitting right there,” said Tony Gonzalez, Fullerton head coach. “Right now it’s in our own destiny, whether or not we’re going to take second place. Right now first place is out of the question, but we’re still trying to get the kids to come out and compete every day.”
While La Habra’s pitchers struggled, Fullerton starter Randall Ortiz cruised through six innings and bounced back after giving up an unearned run in the first inning.
The senior right hander kept the Highlanders off-balance, allowing one run on four hits while striking out four batters and walking one.
“He was pretty good, he mixed his pitches really well,” said Gallegos, who scored the Highlanders lone run. “I think it’s really tough when he tries to go outside, then bangs it inside and comes back with off-speed, he has a really good combination of pitches.”
After Fullerton scored twice in the second inning, relief pitchers Tyler Holub and Ricky Garcia had problems keeping the ball down in the third and fourth innings.
Fullerton (9-7-1, 3-4) capitalized with three runs in the third, one driven in on a double by Ozzie Vazquez and two more from a single by Rocky Markanian.
“With Gallegos experiencing a little tightness in his arm, we decided to back him off and adjust as best we could,” said John Sothern, La Habra head coach. “With Nuanes being our No. 3 starter, we wanted to save him for the doubleheader on Saturday. They just didn’t throw strikes today, we were non-competitive in that aspect.”
The problems on the mound took away from what was a brilliant defensive effort for La Habra (9-8, 4-3). Though Gallegos didn’t start, he did play center field and collected two outfield assists.
In the second inning, Gallegos collected a line drive single and threw out a runner at home plate. In the fourth inning, he caught a runner making a wide turn around second base and threw to second baseman Kyle Schuh, who applied the tag.
Catcher Austin Saad picked off a runner at third base and Brad Hoffrichter made a diving catch in left field.
“I wasn’t expecting to get the runner at home, I just wanted to get the ball in as quickly as I could,” Gallegos said about his second-inning play. “Defensively, we had a good game, we made the smart plays, the plays we needed to make…. I feel like we’re pretty solid on defense, I think this was the best defensive game we’ve played all year.”
For the Indians, adjustments at the plate were key, as La Habra’s freshman starting pitcher Carlos Lomeli had a relatively easy first inning before struggling in the second inning.
With runners on second and third base, Fullerton’s Rowdy Granger plated a run on a squeeze bunt that turned into a single.
Two batters later, Tyler Place drove home a second run with a sacrifice fly to center field.
“In the beginning, I was a little upset with our approach because they were throwing first pitch fastballs outside and we were just taking them for strikes,” Gonzalez said. “I had to jump on my guys, that’s been the story of our season, but later in the game, when we got a hit here or there, I think the guys started to get a bit more confident.”
Fullerton added a run in the fourth inning with an RBI single by Turner Buis and threatened for more by earning five walks, but Gallegos’ outfield assist to second base and Saad’s pickoff at third base saved the Highlanders from allowing the inning to get out of control.
“Defensively, we were outstanding and that’s the only reason the score was even this close,” Sothern said. “Defensively, I was very impressed because with us being a young team, it’s been up-and-down thing for us. Today was very good, I was very pleased with that.”
La Habra’s first inning run was scored by Gallegos on an error by Fullerton’s shortstop Place, who bobbled a ground ball that could have turned into an inning-ending double play.
Ortiz earned the victory for Fullerton, while Lomeli was charged with the loss.
Nuanes pitched the final two innings for La Habra, retiring all six batters he faced.
La Habra will play a nonleague doubleheader on Saturday against Culver City at home. The first game will start at 11 a.m.
“There is some disappointment that we didn’t sweep because I would have liked to have finished them off,” Sothern said. “From our guys, I see the same thing, but it is nice to get a series victory. Playing on Saturday is an opportunity to get guys some at-bats and more opportunities to get other guys some work. I wouldn’t consider it a tune-up, but hopefully if we play well it will get us back on track.”