By Fred Alteiri
Special to the Observer
The 2013 spring equinox, appropriately bookended by two Culver City High varsity baseball road games, literally means ‘equal night’ and occurs when the sun’s path crosses the plane of the earth’s equator.
The Centaurs took their successful act on the road after beginning the early season with an impressive 8-2 winning record based largely on what Coach Rick Prieto prescribed as good ‘home-cooking’.
Moving into Phase Two, the coach has scheduled four away contests in the South Bay area against perennially competitive schools to battle-test his players before the Ocean League action begins within two weeks time.
The first test was a rematch at Lawndale High on Tuesday, March 19. The Cardinals were seeking revenge for being edged 4-3 by a late-inning rally the week before in Culver City but didn’t get it as Culver won, 9-1.
The game was scoreless through three innings with senior right-hander Nate Mathews starting for the Centaurs. The floodgates opened up in the top of the fourth inning. Coach Prieto reported,
“Daniel Hennessy went two for four with a home run and Timothy Stewart went three for four with a home run. We scored sevens runs in the fourth inning and two in the seventh.”
But the foundation of Prieto’s program begins with defense and pitching as Lawndale only managed an unearned run in the bottom of the fourth, their entire offensive output for the day.
He confirmed the team’s effort, “Nate Matthews got the win, allowing one unearned run, three hits, two walks and two strikeouts. Eli Bowie followed with two scoreless innings and Jay Sterner closed out the game by striking out two of the three batters he faced.
Again, the Centaurs played solid defense behind Matthews, Bowie and Sterner.”
Culver has had a stingy pitching staff that up to this point in the season had only given up 22 runs in 11 games with three shutouts and three one-run games..
The Centaur bus pulled into Mira Costa High in Manhattan Beach on Friday for an ideal spring weather encounter with an equally red-hot Mustang squad. The game lived up to the billing with three lead changes before the home team prevailed with a four run rally in the bottom of the sixth inning for a 6-3 win.
The game was marked with great defensive plays, critically accurate throws, gutsy pitching and clutch hitting.
Mira Costa took a one run lead in the bottom of the second inning off of Centaur starter Sterner with an evasive combination: a Texas-leaguer, a sacrifice bunt and a seeing eye-dog two-out single between shortstop and third base. Sterner retired the runner at first with a quick pick-off move on the very next throw.
Culver City responded just as quickly to take a 2-1 lead in the top of the third. Freshman Kelvin Murillo walked, Darian Sylvester singled, Sterner chopped a single past first base driving in Murillo, Hennessy laid down a beautiful bunt but a perfect throw from the Mustang first baseman just nailed Sylvester in a bang-bang play at home plate for the double play. Stewart drove in the second run with a single to right.
Things were just warming up as Mira Costa tied it in the bottom of the inning with their second timely two-out single. The Centaurs took the lead again with two out in the top of the fourth. Murillo walked again and scored as Sylvester doubled for an RBI triple. Sterner followed with a single to left and driving in what appeared to be an insurance run. But a perfect low-throwing bullet from right field and another textbook tag by the Mustang catcher denied the opportunity.
Sterner got out of a tight jam with a swift Mustang on third and only one out in the bottom to the fifth inning to preserve a 3-2 lead. He displayed unnerving command when he got each of the next two batters out in the same exact manner: strike one, strike two, ball one on a pitch designed to get the batter to fish for a bad one, and then a dribbler back to the mound for an easy toss to first.
The Centaurs’ ultimate un-doing came in the bottom of the sixth inning. A throwing error, a bloop single and a bunt single loaded the bases with no outs against reliever Eli Bowie. The Mustangs then delivered what would be the game winning hit with a line drive to left and a 4-3 lead. Two more singles forced two more runs cross the plate for added insurance.
Three outs later the Mustangs celebrated a hard fought victory and the Centaurs could only ponder about the one that got away late as the sun was beginning to dip into the Pacific Ocean a few blocks away.