WOODLAND HILLS — The plan was simple during the summer for the members of the St. Francis High baseball team — look ahead to next spring.
In order for the Golden Knights to possibly return to the playoffs next season after not qualifying this past campaign, they searched for potential lineup and defensive combinations.
"I think we were able to answer some questions, like who might play third base and who some of our starting pitchers might be," said St. Francis Coach Brian Esquival, whose team saw its summer conclude with a 4-2 road loss to City Section Division I champion El Camino Real on Thursday afternoon in a Valley Invitational Baseball League first-round playoff contest. "We finished 7-12 in the summer, but we did some good things and we think we have gotten some things going for next season.
"We were in most of our games [in the summer] and that's all you can ask for. That's a good indication moving into next season."
Tenth-seeded El Camino Real, which recorded a 9-8 win against San Pedro to claim the City Section crown in May, took advantage of a couple of St. Francis miscues to help it advance to the second round of the playoffs against seventh-seeded Simi Valley or 26th-seeded Westlake at 10 a.m. Saturday.
For example, the Conquistadors (10-7-1) took advantage of a botched pick-off attempt of Chris Whitmer in the first inning. Whitmer led off with a walk and moved to second on a throwing error by the pitcher. Yannick Villanueva then came through with a run-scoring single to make it 1-0 before a safety squeeze by Chris Scalisi made it 2-0.
The 23rd-seeded Golden Knights sliced the lead to 2-1 in the second when Young Song delivered a run-scoring single that plated Brady Markel with two outs.
St. Francis encountered some more difficulty in the bottom of the fifth. Luke Oller led off with a high popup that landed just to the left of the pitcher's mound for a single. Oller then scored on a double to right by Whitmer to extend the lead to 3-1 and the Conquistadors added another run on a run-scoring single by J.J. Crane.
"We had that one bad inning that led to those two runs," Esquival said.
St. Francis closed out the scoring in the sixth on a chopper to first by Jeff Garavaglia that scored Pete Hofman.
The Golden Knights finished with four hits. El Camino Real had seven hits.
St. Francis senior shortstop David Olmedo-Barrera said the Golden Knights, despite facing the City champs, weren't in awe of El Camino Real.
"We just tried to come in with a good attitude and have some fun," Olmedo-Barrera said. "We wanted to come in and play our own game.
"We had a good summer, but now we want to have a good outlook on next season."
St. Francis competed without starting catcher David Hubinger and pitcher Joey Malham. Hubinger participated for the Arroyo Seco Saints in a Palomino Regional Baseball Tournament at Jackie Robinson Field in Pasadena and Malham was on vacation, Esquival said.