BURBANK — For a group of Pacific League baseball teams battling for one final guaranteed playoff spot, Friday was gut-check time.
With three games remaining in the regular season, three teams were tied for fifth place, just one game behind Burroughs High, which was sitting in fourth. And with only four teams making the postseason for sure from the league, wins at this point are critical.
Two of those bubble teams, Hoover and Burbank, faced off Friday in their second meeting of the season. The Tornadoes were able to score runs early and held off a seventh-inning push by the Bulldogs to earn a 7-4 victory at Burbank.
"This was a do-or-die win for us," Burbank Coach Bob Hart. "That's how we approached it and that's exactly what this game meant to us. It's just disappointing."
With just two league games remaining now, the win is an important one for Hoover (12-10, 5-7 in league), because it gives it a one-game advantage over Burbank (7-14, 4-8) and Glendale (4-8 in league), which fell to Pasadena on Friday, 6-0. But the Tornadoes still trail the Indians (6-6 in league), who remained in fourth place with a 1-0 win Friday against Arcadia.
In his second year at the helm of the Tornadoes, coach Brian Esquival has the team battling for a playoff spot late in the season, something Hoover hasn't experienced in recent years.
"They have put in a lot of hard work for a year and a half to be in the position they are right now," Esquival said. "They know where they are as far as the standings are right now, but the thing I have to control is that they've never been in that situation before and I have to help them try and control their emotions and not get to overwhelmed or too fired up.
"The bottom line is that they knew they had to win today. With all the hard work they've put in, it's nice to see them be successful."
The Tornadoes received a solid performance from shortstop Fidel Hernandez. Although he had just one official at-bat, Hernandez made it count, powering a three-run home run to right-center field in the fourth inning. He also walked twice and was hit by a pitch.
The Tornadoes took a 1-0 lead in the first inning after Luis Zamora singled and scored when Jonathan Ramos was hit by a pitch with the bases leaded.
Burbank responded with one run in the second to tie things at 1. Jake Noud doubled and scored on a throwing error.
Hoover surged back in front, 3-1, with two runs in the third inning and increased its advantage to 6-1 with Hernandez' bomb in the fourth. Hernandez plated Pierce Velazquez, who had singled, and Zamora, who reached on a fielder's choice.
"I was just trying to hit something hard and make something happen," Hernandez said. "It felt pretty good when it came off the bat."
Velazquez (three for four with a double) drove in Ramos, who had walked, in the top of the seventh inning to put Hoover up, 7-1.
The Bulldogs did mount a rally in the bottom of the seventh, scoring three runs, spearheaded by a two-run double by Randy Higgens. But with two runners on and the tying run at the plate, the Tornadoes ended the threat.
"Five errors, five mental mistakes, five missed signs, an inability to show emotion early in the game, the light-switch mentality in the seventh inning where they are going to have the comeback of the century that is going to be on ESPN that never happens," Hart said. "It is all the earmarks of a very immature team."