Providence baseball's title hopes swept away

BURBANK — Providence High's baseball team's regular season finale and second game in three days with the Liberty League title at stake played out eerily similar to the first game just two days prior.

For a Pioneers squad aspiring for a different outcome than Monday's defeat that Providence Coach Steve Knez called a heartbreaker, similarity is something the Media City squad was looking to avoid.

With its first league championship in 19 years still possible, Providence hosted Buckley in the second game of a home-and-home. A win would clinch at least a share of the league title, with the outright crown depending on Buckley's season finale with Pacifica Christian.

As it played out, the Pioneers couldn't get the game-tying hit with a runner in scoring position in the bottom of the seventh inning, which they entered trailing by one run.

It translated to a 6-5 defeat for the Pioneers that assures Providence a second-place finish in the final league standings, much to the chagrin of Knez and his squad which boasts no seniors.

"We started the inning with the top of our order and that's all you can ask for," said Knez, whose team goes into the playoffs with an 11-8 mark, including 8-2 in league play. "Normally, we'll scratch a run across in that situation but again, we came within one hit."

In Monday's 3-2 loss, Providence also had a seventh-inning rally come up short.

Thomas Keller drew a walk as he led off the bottom of the seventh Wednesday. With two outs and Sean Holt on first after a fielder's choice, Jonathan Max lined a single to move Holt into scoring position.

Harrison Pyros, as he did on Monday, stepped up to the plate. The slugger liked the first pitch he saw and put a good bat on the ball but right to the right fielder, who made the final out and sparked a celebration from Buckley, which scored the game-winning run on an Eben Berg single in the top of the sixth.

"They're a very good program and a very good team," Buckley Coach Lou Tapia said. "We were lucky enough to get our guy to the plate. Eben Berg has been great for us and he got a pitch and did what he's done all year."

Berg's single came off Holt, Providence's ace, who struck out five batters in six innings. The junior co-captain, who his coach called the most valuable player of the Liberty League, allowed nine hits and hit three batters—the last of which eventually scored the game-winner.

"He wasn't as sharp, hit a few batters, but you take away those and he's throwing a good game," Knez said. "He battled all the way to the end. I had to pry the ball out of his hand before the final inning. He's a true competitor, gave it all he had and it was almost good enough."

Buckley jumped on Holt in the first inning, scoring two runs off three hits. Buckley would never trail in the ballgame.

Holt helped his cause and got one of the runs back on an RBI groundout, scoring Keller.

In a game that saw scoring in each of the first six half-innings, Buckley answered with an unearned run in the top of the second to regain a two-run margin at 3-1.

Pyros led off the home half of the second with a double and was picked up by Marco Angrisani's single. Then, with Ryan Chow at the plate, Buckley starter Max Strenton threw a wild pitch, allowing Stephen Knezevich to tie the game at 3.

Providence again tied the game on Knezevich's two-run triple in the third that knotted the game at 5.

The pitching and defense settled down thereafter, as the teams combined to score one run the rest of the way. Unfortunately for Providence, it was Buckley's to be had.

Victor Noval, who relieved Strenton, pitched an outstanding four innings, as he allowed three hits—all singles.

Max pitched the top of the seventh for the Pioneers and kept the deficit to one run.

"Give those guys a lot of credit, they kept coming back," Knez said. "We tied it and they came back each time, wouldn't let up. I'm proud of our guys for the two comebacks.

"We came within a base hit each time."

Pyros and Max registered multi-hit games for the Pioneers, who now wait for the playoffs to commence. As Knez put it, however, their postseason started early.

"We know we're not gonna roll into the playoffs and score 10 runs," he said. "We have to get used to playing these one-run games, so this is great in that aspect. We knew they'd be tough, so we've learned a little bit and gained great experience."

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