By Fred Altieri
Centaur baseball continued to gather momentum as it took a two-game series from Inglewood High, 19-0 at home and 11-3 away, while extending its Ocean League unbeaten streak to four games.
Actually it will be a six-game winning streak due to a two-game forfeiture by Culver City High's next scheduled opponent, Morningside High. The Centaurs are virtually 17-6 overall and 7-1 in league play. And the team has yet to play its best ball.
Head coach Rick Prieto led things off: "Our first game was probably a lot better than the second one. We scored five runs in the first inning which allowed us to breath a little. I believe we scored three in the third inning, one in the fourth and then eight in the fifth. They allowed us to get on base and we were able to get productive hits at the right time."
Southpaw Jay Sterner started the first game at home and drew a decent-sized crowd despite competition from softball, boys volleyball, and a track and field meet going on at the same time on campus. The first inning told the whole story as he got the Sentinels to strike out, fly out and ground out. The shutout was already in full bloom.
Immediately the Centaur batters responded with five runs: Mike Netzel and Kelvin Murillo walked. Jay Sterner singled. Nolan Martinez walked. David Ko walked. Jacob Weiner drove in a run. Max Sterner walked. Thomas Graham got a sacrifice RBI. Christian De los Santos added two singles, two RBI's and two runs during three more rallies.
Sterner got even tougher in the second. The first batter singled. The next three Inglewood batters struck out. He then struck out three of the last six batters he faced. He was on the mark according to Coach Prieto: "Jay Sterner does what he does. He throws strikes, gets guys to hit the ball on the ground, pop it up and it allows our defense to get their work that they need to get in and play catch when it's all said and done."
Prieto addressed the team's home success and progress despite an inconsistent offense: "I think we do a good job on the road as well. We've always had a good pitching staff and good defense. It's hard to pinpoint what it is exactly: why we're not scoring runs as the opportunities have been there. Not in bunches but the opportunities have been there to score runs. It's just timely hitting. I've always said runs scored and RBI's are two most important stats that I care about.
Prieto was not impressed with his team's start at Inglewood: "In the second game at Inglewood after an inning they were winning 3-2. So we had to come back and play. It's sometimes the mental process. I think the biggest hurdle for our program is staying focused on the task at hand."
He noted his other lefty starter: "Eli Bowie went the whole seven innings. He started the sixth inning with a no-hitter. My plan was to throw him but five innings max. However, he still had the no-hitter so I didn't want to take that away from him. He ended up giving up a base hit in the sixth inning. At that time I just allowed him to finish. His pitch count was down, he was feeling good, we had an 11-3 lead at the time so it was best to get him in the seventh inning."
However, the Sentinels managed to push across three runs after the Centaurs had scored two in the top of the first inning. Inglewood's first three batters each reached first base on a Culver fielding error and eventually scored. Inglewood had yet to get a base hit. Then the hammer came down. 15 out of the next 16 batters never reached first base. Game. Set. Match.
The Centaurs are preparing for the team's showdown next week against archrival Santa Monica High and the CIF playoffs which begin the following week unless the team draws a bye. They will first take on Notre Dame High in Sherman Oaks this Friday evening in a rare night game.
It was scheduled partly as a gauge by Prieto: "I want to see that kind of production this Friday against Notre Dame in Sherman Oaks and against Santa Monica. They're a little below in league. However, their league is strong. They're with Chaminade, Alemany, Loyola and some very strong teams. They're a perennial Division I or II team."
And finally, rejuvenation is the hope for the Centaurs leading into the post-season: "The break is going to give us an opportunity to kind of mend. Remember, all of my seniors are on the DL at this point. I think Jake Wells will be back today starting to throw. Hopefully Darian Sylvester and Daniel Hennessy can come through in the Santa Monica series and the first round of the playoffs."