Centaurs Drop CIF Opener
June 5, 2014
Quartz Hill lies on a patch of a dusty plain with a constant flow of dry-afternoon wind in the southwestern portion of the High Desert just east of the Antelope Valley Freeway, otherwise known as the 14, that connects the ever-growing Palmdale and Lancaster area. That's where the Culver City High baseball team ended their season just as the sun was preparing to fade behind the San Gabriel Mountain range stretching westward towards the elusive Pacific Ocean.
Last Friday, Culver High lost to host Quartz Hill High, 9-2, in the opening round of the 2014 CIF Southern Section Division 3 playoffs. Head Coach Rick Prieto spoke of the team's yearly goal and unrealized dream, "It's always unexpected when you lose. That's why you play the game... to win and especially in the playoffs. We reach for a certain goal and that's a goal we've never met yet at Culver City High School and that's to go to Dodger Stadium and win a CIF Championship."
The Centaurs never got settled from the first inning on. Jay Sterner, Culver's starting pitcher, singled in the first but got stranded at third base. The misfortune was to continue as the lefty took the mound against the Rebels, the Golden League co-champions with a 13-1 record and averaging 10 runs per game offensively. With two outs Quartz Hill was able to score two runs on an innocent flyball that fell in the gap eluding two fielders.
Coach Prieto expressed the team's frustration, "The game against Quartz Hill was disappointing because I know we're better than that. We didn't demonstrate Culver City baseball defensively. We outhit them 11 to 9 but they got back to back hits with a walk, a couple of hit batters compared to our one base hit, two strike outs, a base hit and an out. So we never put anything together. It was just scattered."
The Centaurs put two more runners on in the third when Max Sterner walked and David Ko singled. But the next pitch became a hard grounding fielder's choice that couldn't quite squeeze through the infield. Quartz Hill responded by sending 10 batters to the plate in the bottom of the inning. There were very few hard hit balls but the windy conditions disoriented the usually reliable Culver defense and pitching.
Prieto was straight: "The wind is not an excuse because we've been in those situations before. Were we prepared? No question. We were prepared to play that game both physically and mentally. In a one-elimination game, there's no tomorrow. You have to finish what you started."
But the Quartz Hill batted balls found daylight regardless of where they were hit. There were also two hit batters. There was a catcher's interference call. The sudden whirlwind was now in full force. Four runners crossed the plate and the bases were still loaded before Sterner recorded his only strikeout to end the unorthodox rally. It was now 6-0 and Culver City's season was running out of innings.
Jake Wells and Mike Netzel combined to pitch the last three innings trying to keep the game within reach. The Centaurs again put two runners on in the fifth when Max Sterner and Netzel singled. A flyout to centerfield ended the threat. In the sixth inning, Jay Sterner and Nolan Martinez singled but two strikeouts dashed those hopes.
Coach Prieto and his team had their chances: "When we did get some runners on in the seventh inning we manufactured a couple of runs. If we make those three plays early in the game it's a different ballgame. Do we win? I don't know but I guarantee it could have been a 2-1, 3-2 ballgame if we make those three plays."
The Centaurs scored two runs in a spirited last at bat of the season. Daniel Hennessy singled, Netzel tripled to drive him in for the first run and ruin the Rebel's shutout. Then Pryce Campbell, Netzel's catcher and battery mate for the final two innings, brought him home with a long double. But Culver High's season soon came to a grinding halt as the final two at bats resulted in strikeouts.
Coach Prieto saw the game as a microcosm of the team's season, "Like most teams we play, Quartz Hill was bigger and stronger than us. Their pitching matched our pitching. Their defense was obviously better than ours on that given day. But they strung hits together with base on balls or hit-by-pitch situations. They capitalized and we haven't been able to do that all year-long and it kind of came down to the same situation here."
But there's always a silver lining in the clouds as Prieto concluded, "When you set these goals you do it as a program. I really believed that was most evident this year when our seniors went down one by one. We had to bring up players from the J.V. program. And they did very well. Very well. They came in and they established themselves, number one. But more importantly we became a foundation of what we needed and that was good defense. Those were key players that we lost and they came and stepped right in."