By Fred Altieri
The Culver City High baseball team took a ride east out to La Habra High last Saturday, April 19, for a rare mid-season doubleheader. The Centaurs used a forced break into their season schedule as an opportunity to keep the team sharp for this week's Ocean League series against Hawthorne.
La Habra proved to be a good test as the teams split the daytime twinbill. Culver took the opener 6-4 and had the lead going into the sixth inning of the second game only to give up a full-count two-out two-run single to ruin their sweep as they lost 2-1.
Centaur head coach Rick Prieto explained the team's quick scheduling tactic which made the doubleheader possible: "We set up the doubleheader against La Habra High because we had a bye week because of the spring break for Beverly Hills. We were supposed to play on the 15th and 17th against Beverly Hills.
"So we moved it to the 8th and the 10th which gave me a week of no games. I went on the CIF website and saw that there were some games available. La Habra was looking for a doubleheader. Though it was a Saturday it paid off as we threw five pitchers in those games. So we got everybody to work in preparation for the Hawthorne series this week."
The Centaurs jumped out to a first inning lead in game one. La Habra responded immediately and the rest of the day followed suit. Coach Prieto gave the rundown: "We scored three runs in the first inning. Nolan Martinez hit a two-run shot to left. He kept fouling off his pitches, he was working the count deeper and deeper and the pitcher finally threw him a ball he could hit. He hit it out of the ballpark so that was nice. But they came back and scored three runs in the bottom.
"Jay Sterner only threw three innings. We worked him to get his pitch count up to equal to a bullpen because he's throwing tomorrow. Louis Ortega came in and threw three innings and Jake Wells threw the last inning for the save."
The fourth inning coaching decision made the difference in the outcome: "We were able to score in the fourth inning where we put the bunt on for a base hit with runners at second and third. We were able to score both of them on a bad throw. There were two outs with my number nine hitter up. The defense was playing at normal depth. If my players are not going to be doing it in practice swinging a bat with RBI situations then I've got to make the defense make a mistake. That's why we bunted."
Prieto used the second game to reinforce his pitching rotation in preparation for league play: "The second game I started Nolan Martinez. He's been throwing a lot of pens and throwing a lot on his own on the side on Sunday's. So it was time to get him into a game situation and build his pitch count. If at any time he got in trouble or tired I still had Eli Bowie, Max Sterner and Michael Netzel if need be.
"So my plan was to get Nolan as many innings under the pitch count that I was looking for him and Eli Bowie's pitch count for his Thursday's possible start. So I was able to accomplish everything that I wanted to."
The second game was a scoreless tie until the sixth inning when all of the games runs were scored. The Centaurs had La Habra right where they wanted them but ultimately couldn't capitalize: "It was a perfect matchup: runners on second and third, two outs, three-two count, lefty versus lefty. Their batter singled to right field. Our outfielder came up and made a beautiful throw to home. We should have made the play, a perfect one-hopper to my catcher but it went off his glove. That gave them the two runs. It was three up, three down in the seventh and the game was over."
Prieto assessed his troops while gearing them up for the remaining four weeks before the playoffs begin: "Again, good defense. We made a couple of errors just dropping fly balls because it was a communication situation. It's not that we can't make those plays. Overall, the pitchers did well. The defense did well. But we're not getting the big time hit when we need it. Runs scored. RBI's. Those are the two stats we care about.
"We have eight games left. Hawthorne's a huge series. I've told the kids that from Day One."