The sophomore slump has been real for Corona del Mar High third baseman Blake Butcher.
It’s not an accident that Butcher, one of the Sea Kings most reliable hitters as a freshman, was in the No. 8 spot in the lineup for Wednesday’s Wave League baseball game against visiting Marina.
But it took Butcher just one swing to send CdM to a walk-off victory.
His single to left in the bottom of the seventh scored pinch-runner Nolan Dunn as the Sea Kings earned a 1-0 win.
Nearly halfway through Wave League play, the parity in the league is evident. CdM, Marina, Laguna Beach and Newport Harbor all have 2-2 records in the league, after Laguna Beach beat Newport Harbor 9-6 in another game Wednesday.
CdM, which is 12-4-1 overall, won its fourth straight game since losing 12-3 to rival Newport Harbor on March 20. The Sea Kings struck quickly in the bottom of the seventh against Marina (11-7), ranked No. 6 in CIF Southern Section Division 3.
Nico DiFerdinando, another sophomore, delivered a double to left-center field on a 2-0 pitch to lead off the inning. Dunn came on as a pinch-runner, and Butcher then smacked the first pitch he saw to left, past a diving Bradley Coots and into the corner. Dunn was easily able to score from second base.
“I’m just so excited for those sophomore guys,” CdM coach Kevin McCaffrey said. “They’ve been working hard all year. Nico came in halfway through the game, got his chance and got on both times. Blake’s been struggling. I keep telling him, ‘Work with it, work with it.’ He comes every day, and it pays off. He got that hit for us.
“He’s coming around. He’s working his tail off in practice and the ball just hasn’t been dropping for him. Hopefully this is the start of something big for him.”
Wednesday’s game was a pitcher’s duel between a pair of senior right-handers, Jarrett Thompson for CdM and Chase Hennessey for Marina. Thompson went five scoreless innings for the Sea Kings, working out of a bases-loaded jam in the third. He struck out four and walked one.
Hennessey was wild but effective. He allowed two hits in six scoreless innings, striking out five, though he also hit six batters.
Ryan Borquez pitched 1 1/3 innings to improve to 2-1 for CdM.
Kieran Sidebotham reached all three times up for CdM, as he singled and was hit by a pitch twice. After he was drilled in the fourth, it looked like he could score after Luke Joyce roped a double to center. But Sidebotham was out at home after a strong relay throw.
Rocco Peppi, Austin Hallman, Zane Parmenter and Troy Kent had singles for Marina. But the Vikings couldn’t get the big hit when they needed it.
“I’m super-excited,” Butcher said. “I went up to Nico before his at-bat and I was like, ‘Nico, hit a double and I’ll score you.’ I just went up there and did my best. I was waiting back, sitting back, because his [velocity] was a little slower than the last guy.
“I haven’t really been able to hit, so this is huge for me. I was super-happy to have this hit.”
The Sea Kings play at Marina on Friday at 3:15 p.m. That game will be the rubber match of the teams’ three-game series in the league, as Marina earned a 6-0 win in the teams’ league opener on March 15.
Following Friday’s game, league play resumes with the final four contests starting in mid-April.