Arroyo Seco Palomino baseball team takes West Zone opener

COMPTON — The Arroyo Seco Saints looked to get off to a strong start in the Palomino West Zone Tournament in their quest for a third straight West Zone title. With this in mind, coach Aaron Milam sent Angel Lerma to the mound against the Police Action League Giants and his ace responded with a jewel Friday afternoon.

“Angel Lerma has been a difference-maker in every game he has gone out there to pitch,” Milam, formerly the coach at St. Francis, said. “[He] is a gem that was found. ... He’s been at L.A. Marshall hidden in City Section Division II and nobody knows who he is.”

Lerma, who pitched a complete game two-hitter, led the Saints to a 4-1 first-round victory over the Giants from San Jose at the MLB Urban Youth Academy auxiliary field to advance in the winners bracket of the tournament, whose winner will advance to the Palomino World Series.

“My focus was to get some groundballs and let my defense work,” Lerma said.

In all, Lerma, who also struck out three, produced 18 groundball outs, with the Saints’ defense gobbling up its chances both easy and hard with solid fundamental play. The lone exception was an error that led to the Giants’ only score of the contest, an unearned run in the fourth.

The right-handed Lerma did not allow a ball out of the infield until Cole Lang grounded a meaningless single into left field with one out in the seventh and final inning. To start things out for the Saints (10-13-1), Lerma induced groundball outs from the first eight Giant batters he faced, finally breaking the streak with a three-pitch strikeout to wrap up the third inning still perfect.

Key to Lerma’s success was his ability to keep the ball down and work at a breakneck pace, never allowing the PAL Giants (20-13-1) a chance to find any rhythm at the plate.

“What is great about Angel Lerma is his tempo,” Milam said. “His velocity is not overpowering, 85-86 mph. His tempo is bang, bang, bang. ... What sets him apart from most high school pitchers is that kind of bulldog mentality.”

The first hit of the day for the San Jose squad came in the fourth with one out when Giant Nikko Nezcina legged out an infield hit that the Saints’ second baseman got in his glove, but was unable to get off a throw. Nezcina later scored to tie the contest at 1 on an error by the first baseman on a dropped ball from the shortstop.

The Saints took the lead back for good with two runs in the top of the fifth inning. The first came with the bases loaded and one out.

Dustin Shirley hit a chopper directly to the Giants’ third baseman, but his throw home hit Saint David Olmedo-Barrera squarely in the back, allowing him to score the go-ahead run. Ruben Cardenas followed with an RBI single to left field that brought home Angelo Armenta Jr.

“It was good. We just came out and tried to get things started,” Olmedo-Barrera said. “Our guy Lerma on the mound was dealing today, so we couldn’t ask for anything more.”

It was Olmedo-Barrera who drove in the first run of the contest, as well as scoring the second run and then the final run of the game. The product of St. Francis High, who is now suiting up collegiately for Cal State Fullerton, went three for four at the plate, with each of his hits going on a line to almost exactly the same spot in the right-center field gap.

“It was just the way the pitches were coming and trying to get the same pitch and I did what I did with it,” Olmedo-Barrera said.

His first hit came in the top of the third inning and drove in the first run of the game. It was easily a double, but Olmedo-Barrera slid past the bag at second and was tagged out. He also singled in the fifth and scored on the error before singling and scoring again in the seventh inning, this time brought home by a single to center field by Stephen Dubb. Dubb, who played superb defense at second base, went three for three at the plate with a walk and one RBI.

Next for the Saints is a Saturday matchup at 4:30 p.m. on the Urban Youth Academy’s showcase field against South Bay Legacy, which also won Friday afternoon.

“We’ve got a great pitcher going tomorrow; Joe Steele is going tomorrow,” Milam, who coached the hurler at St. Francis, said. “The name of the game here is to win the first three games and you are in a good position.”

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