John Baumgarten, Hilltop High School's baseball coach, said Friday that most high school games are decided in the last inning.
Baumgarten probably feels this way because it is in the late innings of close games that the coaches seem to take over. Usually, the teams that can best execute their coaches' strategies win ballgames.
Except for Friday.
Baumgarten's Lancers botched a pair of signs in the bottom of the seventh inning but still scored a pair of runs to knock off Mar Vista, 2-1, in a Metro Conference game at Hilltop. Both runs scored on Tim Vincej's one-out double on a pitch Vincej wasn't supposed to swing at.
With the victory, Hilltop finished 9-4 in the Metro-South Bay League, a half-game behind league champion Chula Vista. Mar Vista finished 9-4 in the Metro-Mesa League, but still qualified for the San Diego Section playoffs.
"I always say that once a kid has it in his mind to do something, nobody's going to change his mind," Baumgarten said.
David Mossman opened the seventh inning by walking on four pitches against Mar Vista starter and loser Manuel Mendivil.
Baumgarten then asked Willie Gaytan to bunt. But after taking two strikes, Gaytan grounded into a force play. Henry Negreti followed with a single to right to set the stage for Vincej.
"Coach gave me the take sign, but I knew he (Mendivil) was going to throw it right in there," Vincej said. "I knew it was coming right down the middle, so I had to do something."
Vincej lined a shot to left-center that split the gap and scored both pinch-runner Eric Senneseth and Negreti for the win.
"I'll tell you, we were a little lucky to win this one," Baumgarten said. "I had never seen Mendivil pitch before, but he had us hitting off the front foot all day long. He did a heck of a job."
Mendivil (10-3) allowed only three hits over the first six innings but lost the game ultimately because of his team's offensive failures early in the contest.
The Mariners put runners at the corners with one out in three of the first four innings, but scored only in the second.
With two out, Gaytan misplayed David Acero's bunt at third and that allowed Jose Ibarra to score the first run of the game.
After that, however, Mar Vista was frustrated by Gary Fessia, who allowed six hits but stranded eight Mariners in his complete-game effort.
"They definitely had the opportunities," Baumgarten said, "but Fessia did a good job of staying in the ballgame. He got the outs he needed."
Fessia was especially tough in the top of the seventh, when Mar Vista loaded the bases with one out.
The Mariners failed to add to their lead, however, because Feccia retired Victor Vargas on a popup to center and Marty Sandez on a ground ball to first.