PLACENTIA — One inning of infamy led to the conclusion of a season of triumph for the Crescenta Valley High baseball team.
Clinging to a newly-acquired, one-run lead in the fourth inning, the Falcons watched a playoff advantage slowly and painstakingly morph into a season-ending turn of momentum.
Host Placentia Valencia scored six runs in the pivotal bottom of the fourth inning to turn the tide for good, concluding the Falcons’ memorable CIF Southern Section Division II playoff run with an 8-2 defeat in Friday afternoon’s quarterfinal game.
“It went from a 2-1 game to where we’re like, we’re in control of this game, to all of a sudden it’s 5-2 and then all of a sudden it’s 7-2,” senior designated hitter Austin Brines said. “We tried to battle back, but it’s tough; that inning was pretty deflating.”
It was a deflating end to an otherwise uplifting season for the Falcons (21-8-1), who concluded their campaign having won their third straight Pacific League title before proceeding to win the program’s first postseason game since 2009 and matching its finest playoff ascent since 2007.
Valencia (27-6), meanwhile, marches on to Tuesday’s semifinal against Temecula Valley.
“There was just a lot of breaks that went our way,” said Tigers Coach Joe Secoda, whose team improved to 16-1 at home, while dealing the Falcons their first and only road defeat of the season. “I’ll take it.”
Pinch-runner Kenny Barrera tied the game for Crescenta Valley in the top of the fourth when a deep fly by senior Nick Diaz dropped in after the right fielder buckled and fell to the ground.
On the ensuing at-bat, sophomore Ryan Lynch singled in senior Joe Torres for a 2-1 lead. All the scoring had come with two outs and all the momentum seemed to reside with the Falcons.
But it quickly came crumbling down for Crescenta Valley, as a Matt Ruff double began the bottom of the fourth and Ruff ended it with a fly out to center field.
In between, Valencia added a bunt single, a high chopper for an infield single in which two Falcons collided, a single to center field and made good use of a walk, a hit-by-pitch and two crucial Falcons errors.
“We kinda relied on defense all year long and we let down that one inning,” Joe Torres said. “They did a great job of executing. It was just tough to catch our breath.”
Thus, it was one inning in the field and too many innings of missed opportunities at the plate that spelled the end for the Falcons.
“We had some runners on,” said Falcons Coach Phil Torres, whose team stranded 10 runners. “It’s baseball. We hit the ball hard a couple of times and they made some good plays. It just got away from us.”
Crescenta Valley stranded runners in six innings, as it totaled just five hits, but had four walks (three drawn by senior Adrian Damla), one hit-by-pitch and reached base on a pair of errors, but couldn’t get anything going outside of the fourth inning.
“We just struggled to get that hit at the right time,” said Brines, who had a single in the seventh. “Sometimes, it’s just baseball.”
Senior Tanner Carrico got the start for the Falcons and did well at the onset, holding the Tigers scoreless through the first two innings before giving up a solo home run to William Van Dam with one out in the bottom of the third.
But the Falcons regrouped when Brett Klein was hit by a pitch with two outs in the fourth. Torres followed with a single and then Diaz’ fly ball dropped to plate Barrera, pinch-running for Klein.
Lynch (two for two) then singled in Torres for the lead.
Three days after a win against Redlands East Valley, 7-2, in which the bottom of the order — Torres, Diaz and Lynch — combined for five of the team’s seven runs and five of its nine hits, the trio combined for four of the team’s five hits, one run and one RBI.
The quick burst and lead put a bit of a scare into the Tigers, as well, with Secoda fully aware that Falcons ace Brian Gadsby, who had pitched all 14 innings for the Falcons in their wins over Damien in the first round and Redlands East Valley in the second, was allotted three more for the week.
“We knew he had three innings, so it was a four-inning game and we had our mistake and let them go up, 2-1,” Secoda said.
Valencia would see Gadsby, but not even the junior right-hander was able to stop the calamity that was the bottom of the fourth.
After a leadoff double and a bunt single put runners on first and third, a sacrifice fly tied the game at 2.
Then came controversy when Carrico looked to have induced a double-play ball, but the throw from second was wide to first base after the Tigers runner went into second standing and to the side of the throw.
Phil Torres immediately disputed that he had to slide.
“That’s a killer at second base,” Skipper Phil Torres said. “That’s a high school rule, you have to slide.
“[The umpires] were horrible and they know it.”
Thus, with two outs, the inning marched on and runners were soon at first and second after a hit batter.
“They’re a very good team,” coach Torres said of the Tigers. “All they need is just one little crack.”
Torres then went to Gadsby. But Gadsby walked the bases loaded before further disaster struck when he induced a high chopper into no-man’s land between first base and the mound. Gadsby and Damla, the first baseman, both went for the ball and collided.
The play allowed the go-ahead run to score.
The following batter singled up the middle to score another run, but the Tigers had runners bunching up on the base paths, seemingly causing an easy out for the Falcons. But a throw trying to get the runner at first went into the outfield and it was suddenly 5-2. And the inning carried on.
Two more runs then scored on an error at second to make it 7-2. Gadsby induced a fly out to center field to end the inning, but the damage had most assuredly been done.
“In that inning, we had some good at-bats and with Gadsby on the mound, those easily could’ve been strikeouts,” Secoda said. “Being able to put the ball in play created that and a lot of luck.”
The first two batters of the fifth reached base on a walk and an error for the Falcons, but there was no rally to be had.
Valencia scored another run in the sixth for the final tally, but the heavy work had come in the fourth.
“It was just one rough inning that kept us out of it,” Joe Torres said.
Though dry eyes were hard to find amid the Falcons following the game, the magnitude of the postseason run was still tangible.
“I know we’re gonna feel this loss for a while,” Joe Torres said. “But, for a bunch of kids who nobody thought had a chance to do anything [in the playoffs], we surprised a lot of people. It means something and it means something to us seniors.”