Culver Baseball Ends In Dramatic Playoff Defeat
May 28, 2015
By Fred Altieri
It wasn't the kind of ending the 2015 Culver City High baseball team had dreamed about as they solemnly bussed home just before sunset along the scenic peninsula drive on the 19th of May.
Skirting northward above the shimmering blue Pacific Ocean offered little solace to the Centaur squad that had lost 2-1 at Palos Verdes High on the very last play of their opening CIF playoff game.
"Without question it was a well-fought game. I felt that of all the games we had prepared for the team prepared very well for this one," said Culver head coach Rick Prieto.
"Unfortunately, it didn't end up the way we wanted it to. It's always disappointing when we play so well, fight so hard but don't win.
"It started at our pre-lunch before the game. They were ready to go, got on the bus and their minds were focused on the game. Pretty much from when we hit the field from the stretching to the throwing they demonstrated that they were ready. But there are so many plusses versus the loss that took place Tuesday."
It was a pitchers duel from the beginning as four-year starter Jay Sterner threw his last game ever for Culver High. There were still no runs scored when the Centaurs threatened the Sea Kings in the top of the 4th inning. Sterner singled with two outs and moved to second on a wild pitch.
Next, Mike Netzel singled to centerfield on a full-count. Sterner raced toward home only to be tagged by the catcher as he slid across the plate.
Coach Prieto: "We had a situation where Jay was at second, we got a hit and he got thrown out at home. It was a bang-bang play.
"They had the same situation happen in the bottom of the inning and scored. There were two outs, base hit up the middle to the center fielder just like ours."
Palos Verdes took a temporary 1-0 lead.
The Centaurs responded immediately to tie the game in the top of the 5th inning. With one out David Ko walked. Price Campbell replaced him as a pinch-runner. Kelvin Murillo's infield single moved Campbell over to third base on the throw while Murillo moved to second.
Christian De Los Santos laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt on a double steal as Campbell scored. But the play wasn't over as once again the Centaurs just missed another scoring opportunity as Murillo sprinted for home only to be tagged out on a throw from first base.
Sterner pitched until there were two on and two outs in the 6th inning when Nolan Martinez came in to relieve him. 5 2/3 innings pitched, 3 hits allowed, 1 earned run, 3 walks and 4 strike outs read Sterner's final pitching stats.
"When you have a young man of his character, never-quit attitude, calmness... just so many words to describe Jay and not have him anymore in the program and more importantly seeing him around campus everyday... I don't know how you replace a young man like that," said Prieto.
"Our record doesn't reflect how well both Nolan and Jay pitched. Nolan threw well and they didn't hit him hard. Unfortunately all year long we had scoring opportunities and we didn't get as many as we would have liked to. It would have been a whole different ballgame."
Martinez threw a strikeout to end the 6th inning as the game entered the dramatic seventh. Both teams and their fans were brought to the edge of their seats as the momentum shifted numerous times before the home team eventually prevailed.
"We had runners at first and third in the 7th inning, no outs and we walk away with zero runs. We hit a line shot to the second baseman with the infield up and got doubled up at first," stated Prieto.
"Then Kelvin hits a ball over the shoulder of the center fielder. He makes a great running catch. Now in hindsight... we have one out and runners at first and third, we walk in with a 2-1 lead going into the bottom of the seventh." But it wasn't to be.
Martinez quickly retired the first two Palos Verdes batters in the bottom of the 7th inning. But two singles and a full-count walk loaded the bases for the Sea Kings. Two pitches later Palos Verdes delivered the fatal blow.
Prieto gave Palos Verdes credit: "They end up with bases loaded in the bottom of the 7th with two outs and get the game-winning hit. They hit a ground ball up the middle for their first run and for the second they hit one slightly through the five-six hole. They weren't hit real hard but that's the name of the game. You've got to do what you've got to do to get it done. And they did that.
"There wasn't a lot of discussion afterwards. The seniors were visibly upset probably for a number of reasons: the fact that we loss and it really was the last game they had played for Culver City High School."
The teams shook hands at home plate and the Centaurs sprinted out to centerfield to gather and quietly contemplate what could have been.