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Simi Valley shows heart

Times Staff Writer

When it comes to performing under pressure, Simi Valley’s baseball team showed once again Friday night that it wouldn’t crack.

Limited to two hits by hard-throwing Aaron Hicks of Long Beach Wilson, the Pioneers fought him to a draw for eight innings at Dodger Stadium. Then they scored three runs in the ninth, aided by a botched squeeze play and a two-run double by Nick Russo, to come away with a 4-1 victory in the Southern Section-Toyota Division I championship game at Dodger Stadium.

“They have some heart,” Simi Valley Coach Matt La Belle said. “They have some courage. Other than that, it’s hard to find the right words to describe them.”

Just think who was favored in this pitching matchup: It’s Hicks, who’s 8-1, has a 95-mph fastball and is expected to be a first-round draft pick next week, going against Simi Valley junior Drew Sandler, who came in with a 6-3 record, a 3.02 earned-run average and a fluttering fastball.

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It was the unsung Sandler matching Hicks pitch for pitch, limiting the defending champion Bruins (28-6-1) to one run and four hits through seven innings, keyed by a defense that made no errors. Sandler was given a standing ovation by Simi Valley fans after being replaced by Russo in the eighth.

Wilson’s hitters were doing Sandler a favor by repeatedly hitting fly balls. Eight outs in the first six innings were recorded on catches by Simi Valley outfielders, a sure way to get beat because of the large dimensions of Dodger Stadium.

The best news for the Pioneers (25-8) was when Hicks came out in the ninth after hitting the first two batters. His replacement, Ray Hanson, got a strikeout, then gave up a walk to load the bases. The Pioneers twice tried to squeeze home Brett Hale from third with Kyle Raskin at the plate. The first time he fouled off the ball. The second pitch he missed, but catcher Tanner Perkins threw the ball into left field on a pickoff attempt, allowing Hale to score. Then Russo hit his double, one of only three Simi Valley hits.

On Tuesday, Simi Valley came away with a 6-5, 11-inning victory over Santa Ana Mater Dei in the semifinals, enduring many nerve-racking moments. There were more Friday, such as Sandler getting a called third strike with the winning run on third in the bottom of the seventh.

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eric.sondheimer@latimes.com


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