Raiders top La Habra to earn second consecutive league crown
by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
After five innings of shutout baseball, the Sonora baseball team secured its second consecutive outright Freeway League title by scoring three runs in the sixth inning and ousting rival La Habra 3-1, Wednesday afternoon at La Habra High.
The Raiders were limited to one hit through five innings by La Habra starting pitcher Andrew Gallegos, but a leadoff single and a throwing error put runners on second and third base to start the sixth inning, setting the stage for Andrew Piraino.
The senior launched Gallegos’ second pitch to deep left center field, scoring Henry Bustamante from third base despite a near diving catch by Highlanders’ center fielder Brad Hoffrichter.
Jake Rosander singled in the second run and Jose Gomez drove home a third run with a fielder’s choice at second base to put Sonora up 3-0.
“It feels good to get it out of the way so that we can prep for CIF,” Piraino said of earning the league title. “We knew we were going to have a good shot to get it done early, so it was all about taking care of business.”
The Highlanders (11-13, 5-7) tried to respond immediately in the bottom half of the inning. Chris Nuanes lined a one-out double to left center field and Gallegos earned a walk.
After both runners advanced on a groundout, Austin Saad lined a base hit to center field, scoring Nuanes, but Gallegos was held at third base as center fielder Justin Mellano’s throw home sailed far wide to the first base side.
“I would say [Mellano] has one of the best center field arms in the league and we saw him in pregame, he lets it rip and it’s on target,” said John Sothern, La Habra head coach. “In a situation like that, it’s fifty-fifty and I’m not a huge subscriber in sending guys with two outs, especially when you have a guy charging a ball that’s shallow with that type of arm.”
With runners at second and third base, Garrett Molnar grounded out to third base to end the threat.
JP Sarro came on to pitch a perfect seventh inning to record the save and preserve the victory for starting pitcher Evan Sonny, who pitched six innings, allowing one run on four hits while striking out four batters and walking two.
“I was battling, my back was hurting a bit so I was leaving the ball up a little bit, if I had kept the ball down more, I probably could have gone through with no runs,” Sonny said. “I love the pressure and the intensity of the game. Coming out and pitching against your rival, there’s nothing like it.”
During the first five innings, Gallegos and Sonny kept the offenses at bay. Neither side allowed a runner to third base until the fifth inning, when the Highlanders stranded Molnar there on a groundout by Jordan Smith.
Until the sixth inning, the Raiders (17-6-1, 12-0) never got past first base.
“Gallegos was outstanding on the mound, he moved the ball in and out, changed speeds and did a great job keeping them off-balance,” Sothern said. “I was very pleased with what he did today. Unfortunately, we had a situation where a mistake is made, but for five innings, he minimized those mistakes.”
Gallegos took the loss despite pitching five-plus innings, allowing three runs (one earned) on three hits while striking out three batters and walking none.
Sonny, who has been plagued by minor injuries, was taken out after six innings, which allowed Sarro to earn his fourth save of the season.
“Our pitching has been solid all year round,” said Pat Tellers, Sonora head coach. “It’s huge having JP in the bullpen, knowing how strong he was as a starter last season. We can now put him on the mound and have him throw strikes and he’s made a great adjustment in that regard. He’s a great guy for it because he’s so competitive. We like putting the ball in his hands if it’s close.”
In addition to its league title, the Raiders extended a winning streak to 12 games and haven’t lost since Mar. 31.
The two teams will meet again Friday afternoon at Sonora High. While the Raiders have already wrapped up the league title, the Highlanders now find themselves in dire need of a win to keep their playoff hopes alive.
“We’re in this situation for a multitude of reasons,” Sothern said. “At this point in time, we have to do whatever it takes to win these last three games. If we lose on Friday, we’re at the mercy of Fullerton and Troy. At this point, you go [into the playoffs] any way you can. We’ve pinned ourselves in a corner and now we’re either going to find a way out or not.”