Strong debut for St. Francis

PASADENA — Two pitches into its season opener on Friday afternoon, the St. Francis High baseball team found itself in a one-run hole after visiting Cantwell-Sacred Heart of Mary jumped out of the chute with two base hits.

It would have been easy for the Golden Knights to let the game get away from them, as Cantwell eventually loaded the bases in the bottom of the first.

Instead, St. Francis showed some early season resiliency to limit the damage and eventually chipped away at the Cardinals' lead to pull away with an 8-2 victory in pool play action of the Arcadia Elks Tournament at Jackie Robinson Field.

St. Francis continues pool play today at 1 p.m. when it will hit the road to take on San Gabriel High.

“I thought we all came out a little nervous that first inning – new coach, new system, new season,” senior Ramiro Carreon said. “After we got out of the first inning, it was smooth sailing.”

Carreon scattered five hits in five innings of work to pick up the win and also walloped a solo home run over the center-field wall to tie up the game at 2 in the third inning.

Sophomore A.J. Berglund fanned three of the six batters he faced in two perfect innings of work to finish off the win.

Junior Nick Gentili collected two hits and scored twice, while Brooks Burns added two singles to carry the torch for the Golden Knights' offense.

“We were proud of the way they didn't panic and kept playing,” first-year St. Francis Coach Brian Esquivel said. “It's a good sign.”

After Carreon induced an inning-ending double play to hold the Cardinals to two runs in the first, the Golden Knights wasted no time in striking back.

In the bottom of the frame, Jeff Johnson drew a walk and promptly swiped second base.

Three batters later, Gentili laced a single up the middle to plate Johnson, who singled and scored twice, and slice the Cantwell lead in half.

“Offensively, we got picked [off] a couple times and didn't execute some bunts and some hit and runs,” Esquivel said. “But all in all, it wasn't bad for a first game.”

Carreon's mammoth clout in the third tied the game and St. Francis took the lead for good in the fourth after Gentili tripled to start off the inning.

Two batters later, Burns ripped an opposite field single to left to push the Golden Knights in front, 3-2.

In the fifth, it was Burns again who delivered the big blow. This time it came in the form of a two-out lazy fly ball to left field that Cantwell's Paul Valle misplayed.

The ball dropped in for an error, which allowed Sean McGuinness, who pinch ran for Carreon earlier in the inning, and Gentili to cross the plate for a 6-2 St. Francis bulge.

St. Francis, which advanced to the CIF finals two seasons ago, tacked on two more insurance runs in the sixth and played flawless defense to prevent any chance of a Cardinals comeback.

“I credit my defense,” Carreon said. “They helped me out a lot today. We rolled some double plays. They made every play and that helps.”

The positive signs St. Francis saw on Friday are welcomed after the team failed to qualify for the CIF playoffs last year.

“Ultimately, I think we did good for our first game,” Carreon said. “It feels good to win for coach.”


?DYLAN KRUSE covers sports. He can be reached at (818) 637-3252 or dylan.kruse@latimes.com.

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