St. Francis walks off with upset victory

PASADENA — Perhaps when St. Francis High No. 9 batter PJ Dezotell — all five feet and seven inches of him — stepped to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning and his team down a run, Chaminade and its ace, Mathew Troupe, breathed a sigh of relief.

But six pitches later, Dezotell singled and breathed life into St. Francis' chances.

Two batters later, David Olmedo-Barrera sent a pitch into left-center field and subsequently sent his Golden Knights into a delirium, as St. Francis upended No. 2-ranked Chaminade, 5-4, walking off with a dramatic Mission League upset on Tuesday afternoon at Jackie Robinson Field.

"It doesn't get any better than that," said St. Francis Coach Brian Esquival, whose team improved to 8-5 overall and 3-2 in league with the win over the team ranked second in CIF Southern Section Division II. "Win or lose, that's a great game."

Chaminade (8-3, 4-1 in league) brought with it a previously undefeated league mark and the right-handed Troupe, a much-ballyhooed standout who had no less than a dozen scouts at Jackie Robinson to watch him.

Troupe pitched into the seventh, when Dezotell worked a 3-2 count and singled to left field with two outs and the Golden Knights trailing, 4-3.

"PJ just put the bat on the ball and came up really clutch," Olmedo-Barrera said.

Leadoff man JP Nolan followed and drew a walk after falling behind, 0-2, in the count. Meanwhile, Dezotell stole second and took third on a wild pitch. Nolan's at-bat would signal Troupe's end, with Chaminade summoning left-handed reliever Kevin Lewallyn to face the left-handed Olmedo-Barrera.

"I'm one of those guys that really wants to be in that situation," said Olmedo-Barrera, a reigning All-Mission League and All-Area selection. "I was just hoping JP would get on so I could get up."

Olmedo-Barrera got his wish and delivered, sending the first pitch he was offered to the opposite-field gap, immediately scoring Dezotell before Nolan followed with the game-winner, touching home plate almost simultaneously as Olmedo-Barrera strode around second. Seconds later, he was mobbed by teammates.

"It's a huge win," said Olmedo-Barrera, who had three of his team's eight hits and also scored a run in a pivotal fourth inning. "It came at the right time and just puts us in really good position. Hopefully we can just keep up this good energy."

After settling for a split last week with Crespi, which had previously been winless in league, the victory reinforced the Golden Knights' standing in the Mission League, literally and figuratively.

"I think I'm getting tired of saying it, but we're a young group and any time a young group is able to get a win like this against a team like Chaminade, you've got nowhere to go [but up]," Esquival said. "At least that's what I'm hoping.

"The kids came out and they played seven full innings."

Before Olmedo-Barrera, Nolan and Dezotell's last-inning heroics, much of St. Francis' good fortune came to be at the hands of starting pitcher Joey Malham and catcher David Hubinger.

Malham went the distance, allowing four runs — two of them unearned — while giving up eight hits, walking two and striking out four.

"As a group, we're very confident with Malham on the mound," Esquival said.

Malham matched scoreless frames with Troupe through the first three innings, highlighted by him striking out the side in the second. However, Malham found himself in a mess of trouble in the top of the fourth, allowing a lead-off single before a double by Michael Dingilian put the Eagles up, 1-0. A heads-up play by Hubinger followed in which he got the lead runner in a rundown for the first out, but a single then loaded the bases. A Malham strikeout saw the bases loaded with two outs, but he walked in another run to put the Knights down, 2-0. It looked as if the carnage would end there, but an error at shortstop allowed two more runs to score. Another single followed, but an error at home by St. Francis actually paid dividends, as an Eagle charged home only to get thrown out at the plate.

Down, 4-0, St. Francis' rebuttal in the bottom of the inning was crucial.

Troupe ended his day with 6 2/3 innings pitched, allowing five runs, seven hits, one walk and striking out 13. Through the first three innings, he had been perfect, though, striking out five, including the side in the third and retiring the side in the second on just five pitches. But in the fourth, the Golden Knights finally got going offensively.

A single by Nolan began the inning and was followed by another single from Olmedo-Barrera. A pair of strikeouts followed to set the stage for Hubinger, who promptly laced a single to the outfield that plated Nolan and Olmedo-Barrera for a 4-2 score. A single by Anders Schraer followed and was bobbled in left, but Esquival was already waving Hubinger in from second. The score would stay at 4-3 for the remainder, though, as both pitchers settled back down.

"I felt a lot more comfortable after that," Malham said of his team responding. "I knew Troupe, their pitcher, he was gonna be good. I knew that I had to keep it relatively low-scoring."

An infield single by Brandon Van Horn led off the fifth for St. Francis and a two-out single by Olmedo-Barrera had Esquival furiously waving Van Horn around third from second, but Van Horn was throw out at the plate. At the time, the play seemed pivotal, but in the end, only served to set up the dramatic conclusion.

And it's a conclusion that has the Golden Knights believing anything can happen for them going forward in the Mission League.

"They're probably the best team [in league]," Malham said, "so if we beat them, then we can beat anybody."

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