Long ball leads Knights

PASADENA — Leading into the season, St. Francis High first-year baseball Coach Brian Esquival preached the use of small ball as a means to success for the Golden Knights this year.

The small ball approach wasn't successful on Thursday, but the long ball certainly was.

Home runs by Garrett Salzman, Kyle Wong and JP Nolan lifted the Golden Knights to a 7-3 win against host La Salle, as well as the championship game of the Arcadia Elks Tournament and a 4-0 start.

“Normally, we aren't gonna be a long-ball team, but we'll take it,” said Salzman, a senior catcher who went two for three on the day with a solo home run to right-center field in the top of the third inning that gave St. Francis a 2-0 lead.

Wong, a senior shortstop, pulled a two-run dinger over the left-field fence in the forth to make it 6-0, while Nolan, a freshman second baseman, blasted his first high school homer over the center-field fence in the sixth.

“It felt great,” said Nolan, who went two for three with two runs and two runs batted in. “I wasn't trying to hit one out, I was just trying to hit one deep to score [Jeff Johnson from third].”

Johnson, who went two for three, had doubled to lead off the inning.

Nolan was trying to bunt him over before a balk sent Johnson to third. And just as it did throughout the game, the small ball approach was far from fruitful.

Nonetheless, Esquival is quick to point out that, although he and his team are happy with their start and all the runs they've produced, the Golden Knights are likely going to have to claw and scratch for runs in the Mission League, which boasts powerhouses such as Crespi and Loyola.

“That was the one emphasis, that we're gonna have to clean this up, we have to get those bunts down,” said Esquival, whose team has outscored its opponents, 50-8, thus far. “Any time you start the season 4-0, it's a plus — at the same time, come league, it's gonna be a little different.”

It's a message the Golden Knights seem to be getting.

“We're happy we're 4-0, but we're still hungry,” Salzman said. “We know our priorities, our priority is to get ready for league.”

League begins for St. Francis on Tuesday at Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, but before that, St. Francis will play at Temple City against the host Rams at 11 a.m. in the Arcadia Elks final.

It wasn't just the home runs that got them there, as senior starting pitcher Ramiro Carreon twirled five scoreless innings.

“He threw up a good game,” Salzman said. “He made it easy for me back there hitting his spots.”

Carreon had a batter reach base every inning, but never got rattled, allowing just three hits, walking three, striking out six and starting a 1-6-3 inning-ending double play in the fifth.

La Salle (3-1), which beat Hoover, 8-1, on Tuesday, escaped trouble in the first as it came away unscathed after St. Francis loaded the bases on walks by Nick Gentili, Carreon, who was 0 for one with two walks, was hit by a pitch and notched an RBI, and Brooks Burns, who also had two walks.

Wong reached on an error, stole second and eventually came home on a Carreon groundout in the second for the game's first run. Salzman, who sacrificed in the first, followed Wong's score with his aforementioned homer.

With runners at first and second and no outs in the fifth, a botched St. Francis bunt got the first out, a sacrifice bunt got the second and a popout to short got the third.

Nolan got the scoring back on track in the sixth and thankfully so, as La Salle began chipping away.

The Lancers were only able to plate one run in the sixth, despite loading the bases with one out.

Courtesy runner Sean McGuinness was singled in by Andrew Yu to give St. Francis a 7-1 lead in the sixth, before La Salle loaded the bases with no outs in the seventh.

The Lancers scored two runs on a wild pitch and a groundout before Corwin Doerning struck out John Bottala to end the game.

“I don't think we've put a complete game together,” Esquival said. “It's just a matter of putting it all together.”

?GRANT GORDON is the sports editor. He can be reached at (818) 637-3225 or grant.gordon@latimes.com.

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