FOUNTAIN VALLEY — The first full week of the Sunset League baseball season is in the books and if the first three games are to serve as an indication of what still is to come, all signs point to a rip-roaring race.
One thing is certain: through week No. 1, the Marina Vikings sit alone atop the Sunset standings.
Marina rode the pitching of Austin Olivas and turned a seventh-inning miscue and sacrifice groundout into a pair of runs that spelled the difference in a 2-0 win at Fountain Valley.
It was an important road win for the Vikings who slipped past a Barons team that with a victory would have moved into a tie for the top spot.
"I'll tell you, it's going to be a dog fight," Marina Coach Bob Marshall said of the race, moments after his team improved to 3-0 in league and 6-2 overall. "To play against a legend like Ron LaRuffa, and get a win in their yard, is big. I'm dang proud of our guys. They don't give up and they fought to the end."
Fountain Valley, which slipped to 1-2 in league and 7-3, overall, has twice lost close games in the seventh inning in its first three league contests. Both setbacks came on the Barons' home turf, too: in their Sunset League opener on March 16, the Barons took a three-run lead into the top of the seventh on Huntington Beach but ended up losing, 5-4, on a grand slam.
"It was one of those games," LaRuffa, Fountain Valley's veteran coach, said of another close setback. "You have to tip your hat to Marina. They played well and that's as well-pitched a game that I've seen. They made no mistakes and we had one that ended up hurting us."
Olivas scattered three hits and held in check a Fountain Valley team that had scored seven runs two days earlier during a 7-2 win Wednesday at rival Edison.
"He was phenomenal," Marshall said of the left-handed junior who ran his record to 3-0. "He was attacking throughout the entire game and kept their hitters off balance. That's [Fountain Valley] a very good team and it's impressive that Austin held them to three hits."
Both teams flirted with scoring in the middle innings, but the game was scoreless entering the seventh. Fountain Valley junior Monty Plattner, who also threw a strong seven innings, faced two left-handed hitters to start the seventh. He got behind lead-off hitter Jake Bauers, 3-0, but fought back to earn a full count before giving up a walk to Bauers. Tyler Mildenberg faced an 0-2 count but send a grounder toward second base that was mishandled, Bauers safely reached second and Mildenberg was safe at first on the fielding error. Grant Mayeaux then laid down a bunt that rolled toward third base that Plattner came off the mound to scoop up and threw out Mayeaux at first for the initial out. The sacrifice bunt, however, advanced runners to second and third.
Landon Marshall was then intentionally walked which loaded the bases. Bob Marshall then put Justin Neese in to hit and Plattner's first pitch to the junior bounced in front of the plate, past catcher Dillon Persinger, and Bauers scored from third. Two pitches later, Neese grounded out to shortstop but Mildenberg scored from third to put Marina's lead at 2-0.
In the fourth inning, Marina had runners at first and second with one out but couldn't bring either home. A fly ball, and pop up behind home plate, ended the threat. In the bottom of the fifth, John Schattles hit a lead-off single up the gap in right-center field, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Tanner Brown and took third on an infield ground out by Mike Hickman. Olivas was able to get out of the inning by getting Matt Gasparro to fly out to shallow left-field.
Olivas sent the Barons down in order in the bottom of the seventh to end the game.
"It's only the first week of league, but this was big," Bob Marshall said. "It's good to be 3-0."
Next Wednesday, Marina hosts Edison and Fountain Valley travels to Los Alamitos. Both games start at 3:15 p.m.