SOUTHEAST GLENDALE — When the Crescenta Valley High baseball team broke open what had been a close game with a three-run rally in the top of the seventh inning on Thursday afternoon at Glendale, the Nitros’ focus entering their final at bats changed a bit — from beating pitcher Jake Lehne to simply hitting him.
Nitros third baseman/pitcher Bennett Koss succeeded in breaking up the senior right-hander’s no-hit bid with a leadoff single on a high-bouncing chopper to shortstop to end Lehne’s day of work at six innings. Sean Elliott took the ball to easily record the last three outs for a 6-0 Pacific League win.
Nonetheless, it was still a dominant effort by Lehne, who struck out 13, walked none and saw just three Nitros reach base prior to the seventh inning on two hit batters and an error.
His motivation was simple.
“I just went out there and my arm felt pretty good,” Lehne said,” and my teammate [sophomore catcher] Bogart [Avila] said he would shave his head if I threw a no-hitter, so I got pretty close. I’m a little disappointed.”
Crescenta Valley’s lineup had its own share of struggles against Glendale left-hander Zach Fields, who struck out six and limited the Falcons to just three hits over the first six innings. But Crescenta Valley did manage to score two runs on an error in the third inning and one more on a balk in the fifth to take a 3-0 lead.
Fields was chased after allowing an infield single to leadoff hitter Matt Ashby, who finished two for three with two runs scored, and a run-scoring triple to Elliott Surrey to begin the seventh.
With Koss on the mound, pinch hitter Edward Lee knocked in Surrey with a single to right field. Lee stole second base and moved to third on a sacrifice fly.
Catcher Troy Prasertsit, who went two for three, then tripled all the way to the fence in center field to make the score 6-0.
Koss’ determination to get the elusive first hit was apparent in his 11-pitch at bat — two more pitches than it took Lehne to burn through the side in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Lehne saw six 1-2 offerings in a row fouled off before Koss was able to run out an infield single.
“It was good just to be able to do that, get [the team] uplifted and just get that hit and have something to build off of,” Glendale Coach Jon Keefer said. “And just the way that [Koss] did it, that kind of represents the player he is. He’s one of those guys who just keeps battling and that’s us.”
Hitters struggled to catch up to Lehne’s fastball and his breaking pitches on the outside of the plate consistently kept the Nitros’ right-handers fooled, whether swinging or watching a called-strike three.
“It helps a lot when you get the extra inches [from the umpire on the outside corner],” said Lehne, who struck out six batters looking, including the entire side in the third. “Then you just have your catcher move a little farther outside every inning and just work off that.”
Keefer said he was pleased with the Nitros’ pitching and defense coming off a 13-0 mercy-rule debacle at Burroughs on Tuesday, even if the hitting on Thursday left something to be desired.
“[Lehne] is a great pitcher, he was hitting his spots and keeping us off balance all day,” said Keefer, whose team fell to 4-8 and 1-4 in league. “You’ve gotta be able to make adjustments [at the plate] and we’re not doing that yet. Once we get that down, we’ll be all right, but right now it’s tough.”
Crescenta Valley (8-5) snapped a three-game league losing streak to even its league mark at 3-3.
Thursday’s six runs equaled the Falcons’ offensive output for the entire three-game skid and the shutout was the team’s first in league since opening with back-to-back blankings of Hoover and Muir.
“We can definitely compete with the teams in this league and we’re not done yet,” Lehne said. “We can keep winning ballgames like this, with pitching and defense.”