NEWPORT COAST – There used to be a time not too long ago when Sage Hill challenged Oxford Academy in baseball.
No longer is that the case in the Academy League.
Sage Hill's youth and inexperience showed itself once more Tuesday. The defending league champion Patriots beat the host Lightning, 7-1, and improved to 10-0 in league play.
With five leagues game left, the Patriots are closing in on their first undefeated league championship season in five years. They usually drop a game or two in league, and the losses come against the Lightning.
A lot has changed in one season at Sage Hill. Andy Berglund is not coaching at the school anymore, deciding to go the Czech Republic to coach baseball than return for a fourth season.
During Berglund's three years at the helm, Sage Hill won two league titles, sharing one with Oxford Academy in 2009. The Lightning never finished worse than second in league under Berglund.
The Lightning are now on the verge of finishing in fourth place this year. That was bound to happen when eight of the team's 14 players were freshmen.
First-year coach Danny Gonzales only has three seniors at Sage Hill (5-10, 5-5 in league). Two of those veterans were unavailable against Oxford Academy.
That did not help Sage Hill's cause in trying to upset the defending CIF Southern Section Division VI champion Patriots.
"Only one [of the seniors] started because one of them got hurt in practice [on Monday], and another one had [a school project that he working on], so he was unable to start," said Gonzales, referring to left fielder Darren Hardy and ace Jack Heffron, who is also the team's No. 3 hitter.
"We were extremely young on the field [Tuesday], mostly all season we have been. It's just of like the freshmen are learning on the job. It's going to be good in the future."
While Sage Hill is rebuilding, Oxford Academy is rolling.
The Patriots, ranked No. 1 in the CIF Southern Section Division VI coaches' poll, won their 13th game in a row and are now 16-2 overall.
From the start, Oxford Academy jumped out to a 3-0 lead. The Lightning fell behind for the third straight game, a recipe for a third straight setback.
Sage Hill had a chance to get back in the game in the bottom of the second inning. The Lightning had the bases loaded twice. With one out, the first batter struck out looking. The next one swung at the first offering and popped up to center field.
Oxford Academy junior Lucas Sardo got out of the bases-loaded jam. All the starting right-hander gave up was the Lightning's first hit of the game.
Sardo (2-1) went the distance, striking out four and allowing one run and five hits, none for extra bases. Freshman Jack Bick was the lone Sage Hill batter to collect two hits off Sardo.
Sardo also helped himself out. He drove in the game's first run with a single in the first inning. And in the fourth, he knocked in two runs with a double down the right-field line to put the Patriots up, 7-0.
The second meeting between the two programs was much different than the first one earlier this month.
"We had them up, 6-3, going into the last inning," Gonzales said of the previous game against the Patriots. "They came out on top [and won, 7-6, at home]. They really know how to compete when its gets down to the wire."
Oxford Academy has not lost a step with a new coach in Cory Williams.
Gone is the colorful Coach Dana Bedard, but the Patriots continue to pound teams in league. They are about to claim their fifth Academy League crown in the past six years.
Oxford Academy has won 17 consecutive leagues games dating back to last season. The only team in league that defeated Oxford Academy last season was Sage Hill. The Lightning finished one game back of the first-place Patriots.
The gap is clearly not as close this year.
Oxford Academy 7, Sage Hill 1
SCORE BY INNINGS
OA 302 200 0 – 7 10 2
SH 000 010 0 – 1 5 2
Sardo and Higger; Zelner, Rhee (4) and Fishel. W – Sardo, 2-1. L – Zelner, 1-4. 2B – Lucak (OA), Higger (OA), Sardo (OA).