Culver Baseball Loses Twice To Santa Monica But Makes Playoffs
By Fred Altieri
It was a bittersweet week for Culver City High baseball when their 2014 Ocean League season ended just as it had the previous year: finishing in second place behind archrival Santa Monica High but easily qualifying for the CIF Southern Section Division III baseball tournament.
The Centaurs will have to motor north to the desert area of Lancaster / Palmdale to take on the Quartz Hill High Rebels this Friday afternoon in first round action.
Their quest for the league title was dashed as the Centaurs lost at Santa Monica, 1-0, despite a no-hitter thrown by their southpaw ace Jay Sterner in the first game of the two-game series. Two days later they took one on the chin at home, 11-2, as the dormant Viking bats finally saw daylight against the usually effective and stingy Centaur pitching staff.
Culver head coach Rick Prieto reflected the team's mood while preparing for playoff action at Monday's practice: "Obviously losing two games is not a good feeling. To pitch a no-hitter and play as well as we did defensively and to come off with a 1-0 defeat is difficult to swallow."
Culver City's 1-0 loss against Santa Monica felt like a punch in the gut as they outplayed the highly-ranked Vikings in all facets of the game except where it counted: on the scoreboard. Prieto on his team's performance: "We did very well the first game. Without question we outplayed them at both ends, offensively and defensively. We also did get four hits to their zero hits."
Sterner pitched another gem as he overwhelmed an explosive Viking lineup that averaged 9.4 runs per game in league action on top of having 13 players who are batting .300 or better. Behind his usual solid team defense he was able to retire innings of batters while relying on only two strikeouts.
Unfortunately, it was a half-inning slipup in the bottom of the fifth that took its toll according to Prieto: "If you look at the situation that allowed Santa Monica to score their run, it was a base-on-balls, an error, which could have been a forced out and possibly a double-play, that turned into a run scored: a straight steal first pitch, a sacrifice fly, F-4, F-8, you're out of the inning but have given up one run."
The loss was also due to a season-long persistent condition: the failure to take advantage of scoring opportunities. Failing to put a bat on the ball was a main culprit this time as 12 of the 25 Centaur at-bats resulted in a strikeout. Mike Netzel, Jay Sterner, Nolan Martinez and Christian De Los Santos combined for four hits.
Prieto saw it as Culver's chance to go ahead early: "We had one situation where we had runners at first and second with one out. I think that was the only real scoring opportunity that we had which was in the third inning." A fielder's choice and a strikeout ended the matter.
Thursday's home game at Culver High began on a fine note. Special guest and Dodger great Maury Wills was on hand to witness classic Centaur scoring as the Centaurs jumped to a 2-0 first inning lead. Sitting behind the backstop next to the Centaur dugout, Wills posed with fans, cheerleaders, parents and players taking photos while graciously signing autographs to all that asked.
Netzel opened the bottom of the first with a single, David Ko bunted him to second, Nolan Martinez doubled him home and designated hitter Darian Sylvester singled Martinez home. In the meanwhile, Culver starter Eli Bowie was handcuffing the Viking batters... until the third inning when their leadoff batter reached third base on an error.
Prieto liked how his team opened the game: "It started as a repeat of the first game: 20 pitches and six outs. Basically, Eli Bowie had them on their front foot for the first two innings. I thought was going to continue and it did except for that fly ball that we misplayed. It was a fair ball. Without question it was an out ball but it ends up falling. Before you know it the floodgates opened up and we're down 5-0."
The Centaurs never recovered. Jordan Caines, Martinez and Netzel took the mound in relief but the Viking bats kept up the pressure by pushing six more runs across in the final four innings. Santa Monica, finishing with a 10-0 league record, now owns a four-game winning streak versus Culver City. The Centaurs ended league with a 7-3 record and 17-10 overall going into the playoffs.
Culver baseball is now focused on Friday's showdown: "We've been preparing since the beginning of September getting ready for the playoffs. It's all about what we've been doing all season long and that's playing fundamental baseball. We can't afford to make mistakes because we do not score a lot of runs. We can stay in the framework of what we've been doing all year long with a chance of winning these 3-2, 2-1 type games."