SAN MARINO — In certain ways, Thursday afternoon’s Rio Hondo League baseball game between visiting La Cañada High and San Marino provided a valuable reality check.
The upstart Spartans, who won all of two league games last year, improved to 3-1 through the first third of league play after rallying for a 7-6 victory in eight innings over the suddenly-struggling Titans at McNamee Field.
With the victory, the Spartans (6-2) are tied atop the league standings with CIF Southern Section Division IV fifth-ranked Monrovia (9-1 overall, 3-1 in league), whom the Spartans already beat.
San Marino (6-3-1, 1-3), which had preseason aspirations of capturing the program’s first league title since 1998, dropped into a tie for last with reigning league champ Temple City (4-7, 1-3).
“We’re now showing that we can play in these types of games and win,” La Cañada first baseman Scott Moulin said. “I like that we’re going in and showing teams that this is nothing like last year. We’re a completely different team and are proving it on the field.”
Moulin did his part for the Spartans in the top of the eighth when the senior laced a first-pitch fastball into left field for a go-ahead RBI double that plated teammate Justin Lewis (double and two runs) from second base and put La Cañada ahead, 7-6.
The two-out double proved clutch as the Spartans were previously two for 16 (.125 batting average) with runners in scoring position with a double and three RBI.
“I was looking for fastball, preferably inside, and it was there,” said Moulin, who was two for five with a double, RBI and run.
San Marino reliever Miles Glazier did his best to limit the damage by striking out Anthony Mizrahi to end the inning, but his teammates had no final retort.
Spartans reliever Clayton Herrmann retired the first two Titans in the eighth before a single from Kieran Ryan was followed by a game-ending strikeout.
“It helps when you have eight guys behind you backing you up,” said Herrmann, who picked up the win in allowing only one hit through three scoreless innings. “We’ve all got each other’s backs.”
Herrmann and teammate Jonah Bodmer represented a strong back-half to La Cañada’s bullpen as the duo combined to toss five shutout innings of relief after the Titans plated six runs through the first three innings.
“That’s were our depth is, with our pitching,” Spartans first-year Coach Alex Valadez said. “We have confidence in our arms.”
Even so, San Marino appeared to have momentum when the Titans rallied from a 5-3 deficit with a three-run bottom of the third highlighted by RBI singles from Willie Forgatch and Max Warren.
La Cañada didn’t answer back until a run in the sixth, aided by two huge Titans’ errors, knotted the game at 6.
“Our defense comes down to consistency and we have to get back to working,” said Titans Coach Mack Paciorek, whose team committed five errors. “We have to figure ways to get better.”
La Cañada led, 4-1, through an inning and a half behind a RBI double from Lewis, a run-scoring fielder’s choice from Jacob Yonan and a trio of Titans’ errors that helped produced two runs.
San Marino, though, battled back for two runs in the second thanks to a run-scoring grounder from Warren (two RBI) and a RBI single from Air Force-bound Bradley Haslam (two RBI).
While La Cañada added a run in the third on single from Alexander Bang in going up, 5-3, the Titans showed resilience in taking a 6-5 advantage a half inning later.
“We’re now at the bottom of the pack and we need to have a hunger if we expect to get back on top,” Paciorek said. “The Rio Hondo League is going to be tight until the end. I’m not overly concerned right now, but I do think it’s gut-check time.”