A La Cañada High baseball revival that included the program’s first Rio Hondo League championship and first postseason berth in four years now also boasts the team’s first postseason victory since 2013.
That’s because the second-seeded Spartans picked up a 6-3 triumph over visiting Lompoc in Thursday afternoon’s first round of the CIF Southern Section Division V playoffs.
With the triumph, La Cañada improved to 22-5 as it won its 12th straight game and earned a berth to Tuesday’s second round at home against another Los Padres League foe in runner-up Templeton (20-10).
For Spartans first-year coach Matt Whisenant, arguably the greatest player in La Cañada program history, the victory was rewarding and followed a familiar script of leaning on strong pitching.
“It’s good,” Whisenant said. “It was great the way [starting pitcher] Ryan [Graves] set the tone on the mound. His pace was unbelievable with the exception of the sixth inning, where we had some hiccups. Any time your pitcher can do that … good things will happen.”
Graves allowed three runs (none earned) on three hits in a complete game effort in which he struck out three and didn’t surrender a walk on an economical 71 pitches.
Graves retired Los Padres League third-place finisher Lompoc (16-16) on nine or fewer pitches in five of seven innings.
The Spartans raced to a 6-0 lead and ran into their first bit of trouble in the sixth inning when a lead-off double from Connor Hayes helped fuel a three-run inning for the Braves.
Following Hayes’ double, the Spartans committed three errors sandwiched between a run-scoring infield hit from Jesse Gasca (two for three with a run and one run batted in) that suddenly halved the Spartans’ advantage to 6-3.
Lompoc’s Jeffrey Ray also reached second base on one of those errors with only one out.
Graves buckled down and ended the Braves’ rally when he induced a groundout followed by an inning-ending strikeout of Lompoc’s Zeke Chavez.
“The defense has been there for me all year and this was one of the first times they made some mistakes,” Graves said. “I trusted that they’d help get me out of the jam and they did. You can never lose trust in those guys because they almost always make the plays.”
Offensively, the Spartans scored six runs on 11 hits with a steady balance of aggressiveness and patience.
La Cañada helped create separation with a four-run fourth inning that started with singles from Tyler Fierro (three for three with a run), Jonathan Shaklan and Kyle Mysliviec that loaded the bases with no outs.
La Canada’s Conner Schulz (RBI and two runs) and Matthew Sox picked up bases-loaded walks, while Tristian Kalnins added a sacrifice fly and Schulz came home from third when a throw from Lompoc’s catcher to second base, on a steal attempt by Sox, sailed into center field.
The four-run frame gave the Spartans a 6-0 lead heading to the fifth.
“The approach today was just to get on and get runners over and not try to do anything too big,” said Sox, who drove in two runs and stole three bases. “We knew we didn’t need one guy to hit a home run to win the game. It was all about solid at-bats.”
La Cañada opened the scoring in the third when an error that allowed Schulz to reach was immediately cashed in on a double from Tai Walton, who finished two for four with one RBI and one run scored. Walton scored on a single from Sox that put La Cañada up, 2-0, after three.