Culver Baseball Bounces Back With Wins
By Fred Altieri
The Culver City High baseball team wasted no time getting back on the winning track in Ocean League action by taking both games in the season series against a much-improved Hawthorne High squad.
With a 9-4 offensive burst on the road and a 2-0 tight one two days later at home. Centaur head coach Rick Prieto's words resonated with his players during last week's break in league play: "Hawthorne's a huge series. I've told the kids that from Day One."
The team also used the opportunity to re-establish its catching priorities since senior, team leader and starting catcher Daniel Hennessy was injured weeks ago.
Last season's backup catcher, David Ko, made the most of his opportunity by starting both games while gaining further confidence with the team's two starting southpaws, Jay Sterner and Eli Bowie.
Sterner and the team fell behind 1-0 during Tuesday's game at Hawthorne before the Centaurs tied the score in the fourth and opened the floodgates during the fifth inning.
Ko revealed: "The loss against Beverly Hills two weeks ago really opened our eyes. Nothing is guaranteed even though we beat them 14-0 in the league opener. Coach Prieto stressed to us to come to the ballpark to win. And that was our mindset. We were more focused on the game.
"We weren't hitting up to that point. There were two outs when Jacob Weiner got a nice hit to right field driving in Jay from second base. Their pitcher got a little tired after throwing pretty well early. He started leaving some pitches up and we took advantage."
One inning later five consecutive Centaurs poured across the plate giving them a 6-3 lead: Jake Wells, Christian de los Santos, Michael Netzel, Kelvin Murillo and Jay Sterner. Hawthorne staged a three-run rally in the bottom of the inning before Culver slammed the door shut in the seventh.
Ko and the team's other catchers, Weiner and Price Campbell, are appreciative of the team's talented pitching staff: "Our lefties, Eli Bowie and Jay have a lot of control. The catchers and pitchers usually have the same mindset and have an idea of what to throw on what count. We like to mix it up. I enjoy catching them and feel a lot of confidence behind them.
"Whenever Jay's on the mound we're confident about getting the win. We know that he's going to be the best pitcher in the game. We pretty much went to the first pitch fastball. Then we'd go to a changeup or curveball and away. If the catcher works with him well and he hits his spots the other team is not going to score many runs."
The Centaurs were keenly aware of any letdown seeping into their program for the rematch two days later at home according to Ko:
"Before the game he told us: "I don't need to talk about Beverly Hills at all." That's all he said. We knew. We can't repeat this. He just mentioned the word: "Beverly Hills." We knew exactly what he meant."
But the game was eerily evolving as it had in Culver's home-opener two weeks earlier and not taking advantage of scoring opportunities was the reason.
Ko explained: "Their pitcher was throwing straight and slow but we weren't adjusting to the speed of the pitches. We were upper-cutting the pitches and hitting balls into the air. Our approach is middle to opposite field and top-half of the ball which equals ground balls and line drives. We totally got away from that."
Meanwhile, starting pitcher Eli Bowie kept the Hawthorne hitters off-balance with his usual control, deceptively moving pitches and unflappable demeanor from the mound. Ko liked what Bowie had to offer: "We felt very confident with Eli's stuff. We threw a lot of breaking pitches. He has a sinker that acts as a changeup. His curve ball was on that game and his velocity has gotten better. I noticed it had better, sharper movement. But our plan was away, away, away. Coach said he didn't want back-to-back fastballs."
The Centaurs broke open the scoreless tie in the fifth inning with De los Santos and Murillo touching home. The two runs were more than enough as Nolan Martinez threw the last inning to record the save.
Ko noticed how the contrast affected Hawthorne: "Catching Nolan right after them... he's a righty. He throws hard, has good control, a great arm and his pitches have movement. And he threw strikes. His changeup has an outward break. We got two strikeouts on that."
Ko is determined to stay behind the plate as the team's starter: "On Monday, the day before the Hawthorne game, Coach told me that I had a big day tomorrow. It was my first start and a chance to prove myself that I could be a starting catcher. I knew I was going to get an opportunity. I just had to make the most of it."