Bunting is frequently an underrated skill, but for El Camino Real's Dylan Hirsch, his two-out bunt single in the bottom of the fifth inning Wednesday in a City Section Division I semifinal game against Narbonne was a game-changing moment.
"Gigantic," is how El Camino Real Coach Josh Lienhard described it.
The Conquistadores were getting shut out by All-City pitcher Daniel Rocha. Hirsch's bunt single down the third base line enabled Eric Yang, the top player in the West Valley League, to come up and hit a two-run home run on the next pitch, igniting a 3-2 El Camino Real victory at Lake Balboa Birmingham High.
"I knew he was going to come fastball," Yang said. "That's about as far as I could hit the ball."
With a trip to Dodger Stadium on the line, Narbonne Coach Bill Dillon was doing his best trying to help his disappointed players deal with defeat. His biggest challenge, though, was being a father. His 8-year-old son, Brandon, the team's bat boy, was in tears leaving the field. There would be no trip to Chavez Ravine on Saturday.
"We had our chances and when you play a team like that, you can't have mistakes," Dillon said.
From a botched squeeze bunt attempt in the first inning to a player getting thrown out at second in the seventh trying to stretch a single into a double, the Gauchos (27-8) had plenty of frustration to unleash. They had taken a 1-0 lead in the fifth inning on a run-scoring double by Brian Ortega.
Then came Hirsch's bunt and Yang's home run. The Conquistadores (26-7) scored a run in the sixth on a walk, sacrifice and a single by Jake Baer.
"Coach has been telling us all year bunting is our game," Yang said.
Jeremy Polon, who struck out 10 batters, gave up consecutive hits in the seventh before Matt Malconian struck out Jake Guzman to end the game.
Malconian's emergence in the last month as an effective closer makes the Conquistadores very tough to beat following starters Polon and Jordan Berg.
"I'm so grateful for this," said Malconian, who had been the No. 3 starter. "I just have to do whatever is needed to help the team."
Seven-time champion El Camino Real will face four-time champion Reseda Cleveland in an all-West Valley League final Saturday at 1 p.m. at Dodger Stadium. It will be the 42nd time in 43 seasons that a San Fernando Valley team has won the Division I title.
Cleveland (24-11) played flawless defense in a 1-0 semifinal win over Chatsworth. Ben Kaser threw the first four innings and sophomore Sam Villa finished with three innings.
Victor Gonzalez scored on a wild pitch in the third inning.
In the City Section Division I softball semifinals, Chatsworth defeated Port of Los Angeles, 8-6. Vanessa Portillo hit a two-run home run.