LAGUNA BEACH — The Estancia High pitching staff combined to walk eight batters and hit two on Tuesday. Half of those runners found their way home at Laguna Beach.
Six games into Orange Coast League play, the Breakers appear as if they are going to walk away with the league title. They sure walked past the defending league champion Eagles, staying perfect in league with a 9-6 victory.
Laguna Beach was due for a win after losing its first two games of the season last week while in nonleague action. Estancia sure helped the Breakers, who won their 16th game overall, tying them for the single-season school record for wins.
Last season's team set the mark. The current team's goal is to claim the program's first league crown in 48 years.
The Breakers are off to a 6-0 start in league, outscoring the opposition, 73-16, during the stretch. No team in league has challenged Laguna Beach (16-2), ranked fourth in the CIF Southern Section Division IV coaches' poll.
"We are going to challenge ourselves," said Laguna Beach Coach Jeff Sears, who believes his team must sure up its defense. "We let people [back] in the game a lot. Our defense isn't as good as it should be right now. It's what we work on. It's what we pride ourselves on."
The Breakers almost left themselves down with shoddy defense in the top of the seventh inning. An error gave Estancia (8-8, 3-3 in league) a chance to rally.
Their star, Santa Barbara-bound senior Chris Paul, turned in the Breakers' fourth miscue of the game.
Down, 9-5, with runners on second and first and no outs, Alex Trancoso hit a routine grounder to Paul at shortstop. The ball went underneath Paul's glove and toward the outfield, allowing Matt Carlyle to race home to cut the deficit to three.
The Eagles had the game-tying run at the plate in cleanup hitter Andres Hernandez. The junior fell behind on the count against reliever Keaton Jones before stroking the ball for a sure hit to right field, but second baseman Robbie McInerny had other plans.
McInerny dived to his left and gloved the grounder. He quickly rose to his feet and fired a throw to first base to rob Hernandez of an RBI single.
With runners in scoring position, Jones struck out the next batter and then induced a groundball to McInerny for the final out. Jones picked up the save after two innings of work.
"Robbie made a great play in a tough position," said Sears, who saw his starter, sophomore Jackson Rees, improve to 5-0 after throwing five innings.
Rees is not even the Breakers' best pitcher. The Eagles get to see him Wednesday at home at 3:15 p.m.
Sears said he expects Paul to take the mound for the second time this season against Estancia. In the last meeting, Paul dominated the Eagles, throwing a one-hitter with 12 strikeouts as Laguna Beach won, 5-1.
Nine league games remain. Coach Matt Sorensen said Wednesday's game is a must-win if Estancia has any hope to repeat as league champion.
Sorensen said Paul is the best player in the league. He gives the Breakers the edge against Estancia, which does not boast as strong as a pitching staff as it did last season, when the Eagles won their first league title since 1991.
The Eagles also lost their top two pitchers, Marc DeFrenza and Ryan Boselo, to graduation. Beside the losses on the mound, Sorensen views his team as slightly better than Laguna Beach.
"I'd like to think, honestly, from top to bottom, depth, talent, the whole team, we're a little bit better, but they're pitching better, and that's the name of the ballgame," said Sorensen, adding that his staff hurt itself by walking eight and hitting two batters.
"We have to make them earn it. I know what [my players are] capable of, and it's frustrating from a coach's standpoint. To see them execute in other games … in practice, these kids are doing the right things. I don't know if the situation is getting the better of them, or if they're putting too much pressure on themselves, but that's something that we have to address as a coaching staff and work together with these players, to get these kids feeling comfortable and executing, and doing what they're physically capable of doing."
Orange Coast League
Laguna Beach 9, Estancia 6
SCORE BY INNINGS
Est 021 020 1 – 6 5 1
LB 211 410 x – 9 10 4
Hernandez, Rios (3), Macias (5), De La Pena (6) and Pearce; Rees, Jones (6) and Peruzzi. W – Rees, 5-0. L – Hernandez, 1-1. 2B – Jones 2 (LB), Peruzzi (LB), Pearce (E).