GLENDALE — A foundation of strong pitching and fundamental defense have long been cornerstones of Crescenta Valley High baseball success.
So too has been the practice of what Falcons Coach Phil Torres refers to as “special teams plays,” such as double steals and pickoffs.
Thus, it was fitting that as the Falcons found themselves in a battle for the Pacific League title with archrival Arcadia, it was those aforementioned areas in which Crescenta Valley shined.
Needing a victory to claim the league title all for themselves, the Falcons celebrated into a hot spring night after defeating Arcadia, 1-0, on the strength of a Brian Gadsby shutout and a Michael Russo steal of home Friday at Stengel Field.
“That’s stuff we work on,” said Torres of pickoffs and double steals, as the latter of which was executed in the first inning with freshman catcher Kewin Ledesma breaking for second to draw a throw from the pitcher before senior right fielder Michael Russo broke for home and slid across with the only run of the game. “For us, it wins a championship.”
So too did the right arm of Gadsby, as the junior sidearmer was excellently efficient from start to finish, which saw the Falcons (19-7-1, 12-1-1 in league) win their third straight title and prevent Arcadia (16-9-1, 10-3-1) from earning a share.
Gadsby twirled a shutout, going the distance on just 74 pitches and holding the Apaches to a pair of infield singles. On the night, Gadsby struck out four and didn’t even reach a three-ball count on any batter, throwing 17 first-pitch strikes out of 23 batters faced and 57 strikes to 17 balls.
“Lately, the past couple games I’ve been throwing a lot of balls, not going after guys,” said Gadsby, who picked off one of just three Arcadia base runners following a leadoff single in the sixth. “Today, I felt like I had to attack guys.”
Gadsby attacked from the outset and never slowed, as the close nature of the game has certainly been a standard of the Crescenta Valley-Arcadia rivalry, but the 88-minute game time was just the opposite, though much ado to Gadsby’s quick work.
“I went out there excited just like I know everybody else did and we all played our butts off,” Gadsby said.
Crescenta Valley has now won six straight games, all via shutout and is unbeaten in its last 13. Its last non-win was a 4-4 tie called in extra innings due to rain against Arcadia on April 25.
“My [mindset] was that these [last five] games are to get to Arcadia and for it to mean something,” Gadsby said. “I wasn’t happy with the tie.”
With Arcadia sophomore pitcher Ryan Tuck (complete game, four hits, three strikeouts, one walk) holding the Falcons at bay, the Apaches were always just a swing away from tying the game, but the Falcons held tight to the lead.
“We got the first run in the first inning and were excited, but we knew we needed more,” Russo said. “But it was enough.”
Russo had two of his team’s four hits, with Ledesma and Bryan Wang adding singles. Russo looked to have had a leadoff double in the bottom of the fourth, but Arcadia appealed and threw over to first to get the out after Russo apparently didn’t touch the first-base bag. Two batters later, the Falcons hit into one of their three inning-ending doubles play.
Alas, the only offense came early, as a two-out infield single by Russo came ahead of a hit-and-run single by Ledesma.
Then the Falcons rolled the dice on the double steal.
“It’s what coach calls “special teams baseball” and it’s what got us our run,” Gadsby said.
Gadsby’s only serious trouble came in the top of the fifth with a one-out infield single by Tuck. Tuck moved to second on the next at-bat, but it was still a huge out as Russo came out firing and gunned the runner out at first base from right field for the third time this season. Tuck took third on a wild pitch, though, before Gadsby induced a groundout to third baseman Joe Torres. Torres bobbled the ball badly, but never panicked, collected the ball and threw a seed to first to retire the side.
“I thought we played really good defense behind [Gadsby],” Phil Torres said.
The only defensive blemish was one error in the first by Gadsby, who was quick to praise his defense, which had big plays all around, including Torres, Russo, second baseman Nick Diaz and shortstop Ryan Lynch.
“Look at the guys behind me,” Gadsby said. “I had complete trust in my defense.”
And now, the Falcons move forward with at least one more game at Stengel Field, as they’ll host a first-round playoff game, with postseason pairings released on Monday.
“It feels like an accomplishment,” said Russo of winning league outright a season after sharing it with Burbank. “We set a goal and we reached it. Now we have to further that goal.”
Follow Grant Gordon on Twitter: @TCNGrantGordon.