Culver Baseball Gets Off To a Fast Start
By Fred Altieri
Culver City High baseball has initiated the 2014 season the same way the team played all last season: by winning often... with pitching and defense.
After embarking on a 6-3 winning journey through the first three weeks of non-league play, the Centaurs continued their success during the first two games of a five-game schedule in the Anaheim Lions Tournament ending this week.
Last Friday's home afternoon contest against Mira Costa High, the South Bay baseball power and a 2013 CIF Division 3 finalist at Dodger Stadium, was a virtual repeat of last year's tough road game against the same Mustangs in Manhattan Beach. But this time the Centaurs avenged last year's late-game loss with a very satisfying 2-1 comeback victory.
Once again Jay Sterner was the starting pitcher against the Mustangs: "I had to pitch a good game for us to do well and not underestimate them. Even though I did well against them last year it didn't mean I could do it again. I just made sure I hit my spot and do what I do. Last year it was mostly about the defense allowing Mira Costa to come back and beat us. But today our defense was good and that made the difference in the game."
Culver has now compiled an 8-3 record despite having only one offensive outburst so far this season, an 11-0 victory at Lawndale High two weeks ago. After playing at a .500 clip through the first six games, the team has now won five straight while allowing only four runs total in those games.
Sterner was able to keep Mira Costa at bay predominantly with his three-pitch arsenal he improved upon during the off-season:
"Over the summer the velocity on my fastball went up a little bit. I focused more on the location of my pitches. I've been able to locate all three of my pitches really well and throw for strikes on any count, which is important. It keeps the batters off-balance."
Mira Costa scored first with an unearned run in the top of the second inning and threatened again in the third. Sterner was confident in being able to put the fire out:
"There was one out and Mira Costa had runners on second and third. I didn't really want them to hit the ball because they would have scored unless we got lucky. The first batter I was trying to strike out. Once that happened, for the next batter I just wanted to keep the ball on the ground or have him pop-up, just get an out. I think I also struck him out."
That kick-started the Centaurs offense moving into the bottom of the inning. With Sterner leading off, followed by Darian Sylvester, freshman Max Sterner (Jay's younger brother), Mike Netzel, David Ko, Jake Wells and Christian De los Santos, Culver was able to take the lead for good with a combination of hits, walks, a double, a stolen base and a perfect bunt down the third base line.
Sterner pitched five innings and had command of his pitches with catcher Jake Weiner behind the plate, "I kept my fastball outside because they really couldn't handle it. So when I had to throw my off-speed pitch and change-up they couldn't sit back and recognize it. The change-up worked for me."
Wells came in to effectively relieve Sterner in the sixth inning, setting up the seventh inning save appearance by Centaur closer Louie Ortega. The Mustangs once again threatened by putting two runners on with one out. Ortega was up to the task by getting an infield out at first base before Wells, who had moved into right field with the pitching change, made a fine game-saving catch on a low screaming liner to preserve the victory.
The Centaurs had no time to rest on their laurels as they motored out Saturday to Santa Clarita to beat Golden Valley High, 4-2, in a late-afternoon contest. Eli Bowie started and pitched five scoreless innings for the win. The Culver offense showed signs of life as they had seven hits for four runs with three coming in the second inning on runs scored by De los Santos, Wells and Price Campbell. Netzel scored an insurance run in the top of the fifth to counter the Grizzlies' two late scores in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Jay Sterner stressed the team's focus as the Centaurs prepare for Ocean League action beginning next week against Beverly Hills High: "We're going to finish the remaining games in the Anaheim Lions Tournament the same way we take everything: one game at a time. We want to go undefeated in the Ocean League this year. Santa Monica beat us last year twice and we want to get them back like we did my freshman year two years ago and went undefeated."