Crescenta Valley High baseball takes to road to face Redlands East Valley

Crescenta Valley High's baseball team had a bit of a wait to make it into the second round of the CIF Southern Section Division II playoffs.

Thursday night's 6-1 first-round victory over visiting Damien at Stengel Field ushered the Falcons into Tuesday's second round after Crescenta Valley had come up short of the destination in each of the previous five seasons.

"I only knew we hadn't won in the first round the last [three years], because that's how long I've been here," Falcons senior three-hitter Michael Russo said. "It's been long enough for us.

"It was a huge win for us, for our morale."

Becoming the first Falcons squad to win a postseason game since 2009 and the first to move on to the second round since 2008 was an accomplishment and an advancement that certainly resonated, whether all the Falcons players knew the exact history leading into the game.

"I think it was really like we're in the party, we're in the dance," said Falcons senior Joe Torres, not only the team's starting third baseman, but also a player who's grown up in the program with his father Phil as the head coach. "You're not in it until you win one."

That win came in large part due to a near-flawless defense, an impressive start from junior ace Brian Gadsby on the mound and an offense that chipped away every inning.

After the win, though, the Falcons had to wait a little longer to find out just who and where they were playing in Tuesday'ss second round.

It will be Redlands East Valley, the Citrus Belt League champion, which defeated Los Osos, 4-3, in a first-round game that had been rescheduled for Friday.

Redlands enters Tuesday with a 22-5 record and riding an eight-game winning streak.

Among the Wildcats' key contributors offensively are seniors Casey Sheehan (.500 average, 29 runs, four triples, 14 stolen bases), Zach Kirtley (.360 average, 27 runs, 23 runs batted in, 21 stolen bases) and Ryan Williams (28 runs, 34 RBI, 19 extra-base hits, 10 stolen bases). The trio has led a proficient lineup that's averaging more than six runs a game.

"They're always very offensive," Phil Torres said. "They swing the bats."

Pitching-wise, the Wildcats are led by junior David Barela (0.82 earned-run average, 8-1 record, 61 strikeouts in 60 innings) and senior Blake Tuthill (0.69 ERA, 6-3 record, 44 strikeouts in 50 2/3 innings).

On the bump for Crescenta Valley, Gadsby has been the ace, as the right-handed sidearmer has delivered the Falcons their last two victories, throwing a two-hit shutout against Arcadia in the regular season finale to clinch an outright Pacific League title before going the distance and allowing one run and five hits in the win over Damien.

Senior Tanner Carrico and junior Jimmy Smiley have also been solid in starting roles, while senior right fielder Michael Russo, freshman catcher Kewin Ledesma and senior center fielder Bryan Wang have been key to the offense. Coach Torres said a decision has yet to be made on who will start on the mound Tuesday.

"We haven't pitched [Gadsby] on four days' rest before, so we'll see," Torres said. "Tanner's pitched really well down the stretch and Jimmy'ss pitched really well."

Often overlooked has been the defense, as Wang has showed solid range in center, Russo has showed off a cannon for an arm in right field and the infield of Torres at third base, senior Adrian Damla at first, senior Nick Diaz at second and sophomore Ryan Lynch at shortstop have become a reliable, if not an excellent group.

"We started playing better when we started playing better defense," Phil Torres said.

As for the intangibles, Crescenta Valley has a long bus ride in front of it, but the Falcons are 9-0-1 on the road.

"We're not the biggest team, so I don't think we're going to intimidate anybody stepping off the bus, but we're not going to be intimidated either," Joe Torres said. "It's not a big deal to us, we don't care who's in the stands. Home field advantage is kind of overrated, it's not like you get another guy in the lineup."

The Falcons have won seven straight games and are 13-0-1 over their last 14. Of course, momentum and a season can end just as quickly in the playoffs.

"Now it's all about battling and executing," Joe Torres said. "At this point it's win or go home. You win, you're celebrating with your buddies. You lose, it's your last game in high school."

Should the Falcons advance past Redlands, they would face third-seeded Vista Murrieta out of the Southwestern League or Placentia Valencia out of the Empire League in Friday's quarterfinal round.

The Falcons haven't advanced to the quarterfinals since 2007, but they've already started making their own history this postseason.

Said Phil Torres: "It's a seven-inning season now and anything can happen."


Follow Grant Gordon on Twitter: @TCNGrantGordon.

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