Orange Lutheran wins opener in wood bat tournament

There were strange happenings Monday on a baseball field in Orange County. First, there was a downpour that left the Placentia El Dorado High diamond full of puddles. Then came the most awkward of moments: high school players trying to figure out how to apply pine tar to their wood bats.

“We’re hoping it comes with umpire pregame instructions,” Valencia West Ranch Coach Casey Burrill said.

Orange Lutheran pitcher Andrew Thurman was bubbling with excitement before his team’s game against West Ranch.

“I’m loving the wood bat tournament,” he told a fan.

There isn’t a pitcher in the 16-team Diamond Sports National Classic who shouldn’t be thrilled, since the entire tournament is using wood bats. And the hard-throwing Thurman was the first beneficiary, striking out eight, walking one and giving up three hits in Lutheran’s 4-1 victory over West Ranch.

“It’s just so much easier to pitch, to throw inside, break some bats, have a good day,” said Thurman (5-0). “Guys can’t hit the ball as hard. It’s real nice.”

All the pluses and minuses about wood bats at the high school level were on display. Two bats were broken, there were few hard hit balls and some players looked uncomfortable taking swings.

Wood bats are being used instead of metal bats for safety reasons at the request of tournament participant Marin Catholic, whose pitcher, Gunnar Sandberg, was seriously injured when a ball hit with a metal bat struck him in the head March 11.

West Ranch pitcher Allen Sarkissian was struck in the leg Monday by a line drive from a wood bat, but he wasn’t injured or fazed.

“Obviously, the wood bats have an effect,” Lutheran Coach Eric Borba said. “Both pitchers did a pretty good job. Thurman is tough enough to hit with an aluminum bat. You put a wood bat in these kids’ hands and it makes it even tougher.”

Lutheran (10-3) scored four runs in the fifth inning against Sarkissian, who walked six, hit three batters and had 13 three-ball counts in 4 2/3 innings. The Lancers scored runs on a bases-loaded hit batsman, a fielder’s choice, a groundout and a wild pickoff throw. That’s not exactly great material for a highlight video. But coaches in the tournament expect the hitters to adjust to the wood bats as the games proceed.

Rain early Monday forced postponement of morning games scheduled at El Dorado and Anaheim Esperanza. Those games will be played Tuesday at 9 a.m., with Huntington Beach Edison playing Palm Desert and West Covina South Hills facing Tucson (Ariz.) Salpointe. The South Hills-Salpointe winner will play Lutheran on Tuesday at 2 p.m. at Esperanza in the second round.