Esperanza Wins 4-A Title, 9-3
Tom Redington, Esperanza High School shortstop, didn’t think he could hit a ball any harder than he did last Tuesday.
But Saturday night, in the Southern Section 4-A baseball championship against Fontana at Dodger Stadium, he did.
Redington, on the heels of a 375-foot, two-run home run that lifted the Aztecs over Simi Valley in Tuesday’s semifinals, smashed a two-run homer into the left-field pavilion, about 10 rows up from the 360-foot sign, in the first inning Saturday night.
That set the tone for the rest of the evening.
The Aztecs continued to pound Fontana pitcher Vinnie Mares for 12 hits on their way to a 9-3 victory in front of 8,437 fans.
Esperanza left-hander Steve Halweg, who has been hampered with tendinitis in his pitching elbow for the past few weeks, survived two shaky innings and allowed five hits in six innings to earn the victory and improve his record to 15-2.
Tim MacNeil retired the side in order in the seventh, striking out final batter Weston Spires to touch off a wild celebration that marked the Aztecs’ first Section baseball championship.
The Aztec hitters can take most of the credit. Redington, who finished the season with a .442 average (38 for 86), 10 home runs and 42 RBIs, added an RBI single in the sixth inning and scored twice.
Lead-off batter Kevin Clancy went 3 for 4 with three runs scored and four stolen bases. Clean-up batter Eric Cox added two hits and two RBIs. Third baseman Dave Moralez had two hits, including a ground-rule double, and an RBI.
All came off Mares, the senior right-hander who had allowed two runs in 26 previous playoff innings and who had won all four games leading up to the finale.
“Me and Greg Moralez were at a batting cage until four in the morning last night,” Clancy said. “I won’t say the name of the place because we weren’t supposed to be there, but it paid off tonight.”
Redington didn’t need any extra batting practice. The junior has been the team’s hottest hitter in the playoffs, with six hits in 10 at-bats, including three homers and eight RBIs.
Saturday night’s homer wasn’t as dramatic as Tuesday’s, which came in the sixth inning and gave the Aztecs a 6-5 come-from-behind victory, but it will be one Redington will remember for a long time.
“I was wrong,” Redington said, referring to Tuesday’s observation that he had hit his hardest ball. “This one goes down as my best ever.”
Said Esperanza Coach Mike Curran: “When Tommy hit that, everyone was running for the bat rack.”
Not so fast, though.
After Redington’s homer in the top of the first, the Steelers (19-8) came back with a run in their half of the inning on Chuck Carr’s RBI single to left field. But a fine defensive play by Clancy in right field prevented any further damage.
With Greg Colbrunn on second, Ernie Lujan lifted a fly ball to medium right field that Clancy caught. Colbrunn tried to tag on the out and advance to third, but Clancy cut him down with a perfect one-hop throw to Moralez.
The Aztecs (25-3-1) extended their lead to 5-1 in the third on RBI singles by Cox and Moralez and Emmitt Cohick’s sacrifice fly, and they added a run in the fourth on Andy Escobar’s RBI single. But they let the Steelers back into the game in the bottom of the fourth.
Colbrunn and Lujan each singled, with both runners advancing when the Lujan’s hit slipped past Cohick in left field. Both scored when Halweg’s attempted pick-off throw to third was wild.
But Fontana, which finished third in the Citrus Belt League and beat three league champions on its way to the title game, couldn’t come any closer.
The Aztecs padded their lead with two runs in the sixth and one more in the seventh.
“I knew going in that Esperanza would be the best hitting team we would face in the playoffs,” Fontana Coach Steve Hernandez said.
He was right.