PASADENA — Their valiant bid to overcome an eight-run deficit fell short and now their bid to make the playoffs might have been jolted.
For the members of the St. Francis High baseball team, they know what needs to be done — win their last three Mission League games and hope it will land them a spot in the CIF playoffs.
St. Francis staged a frantic rally, but suffered a 9-8 league loss against Alemany on Tuesday afternoon at Jackie Robinson Field.
St. Francis dropped to 11-13, 3-6 in league, while Alemany improved to 17-8, 6-5. The Golden Knights entered Tuesday's contest tied for fourth with Loyola and Sherman Oaks Notre Dame. They have a rematch at Alemany on Friday before closing out the regular season with a pair of games against Loyola next week.
The Golden Knights committed two costly errors that led to three unearned runs in the first three innings. Unfortunately for St. Francis, it couldn't overcome its slow start against an Alemany squad that maintained its grip on third place behind Chaminade and Harvard-Westlake. The top four teams from league earn automatic playoff berths.
"This was definitely a Mission League game and we didn't think we would roll over at any point," St. Francis Coach Brian Esquival said. "Alemany has got a good team and we had some opportunities where we didn't cash in.
"We made some big errors that cost us at least four runs. When you play good teams like that, you have to play errorless ball."
St. Francis closed to within 9-7 on a grand slam home run by Tei Vanderford in the sixth. The Golden Knights trimmed the deficit to 9-8 and had a runner on third with two outs. However, Alemany escaped when PJ Dezotell grounded out to third and was beaten by a stride.
"It was a chopper that I thought I could beat out," said Dezotell, who finished with three hits. "I knew it would be close.
"We rallied and that can give us confidence. We just have to keep playing."
St. Francis starting pitcher Joey Malham appeared to struggle with his command after retiring the side in order in the first. Malham also balked in two runs.
After St. Francis turned a double play, Malham hit Ryan Paramo with a pitch. Paramo moved to second on a single by Chase Davis. Then the Warriors took a 1-0 lead when Sean O'Brien's fly ball was dropped by the St. Francis left fielder.
St. Francis' struggles continued in the third when Malham walked Peter Van Gansen with one out. Malham then got Corey Sims to hit into what appeared to be an inning-ending double play, but the ball got past the St. Francis second baseman. Van Gansen scored on a balk to make it 2-0 before a run-scoring single by Edgar Montes extended the lead to 3-0.
"He didn't pitch bad, but he missed with his location," Esquival said. "You try to do too much and then you start leaving pitches up high and they hit them.
"We have to win Friday. Will that put pressure on us? Yes. We have to come out ready to play and we need to be better for all seven innings."
After St. Francis cut the lead to 3-1 on a fielding error by the Alemany first baseman in the third, Alemany scored three runs in the fourth to make it 6-1. Paramo had a run-scoring double to make it 4-1 and Paramo scored on Malham's second balk before an RBI triple by Van Gansen capped the inning.
After the Warriors scored three more runs in the fifth to take a 9-1 lead, St. Francis began to chip away little by little.
David Olmedo-Barrera came through with a run-scoring single to make it 9-2 in the fifth.
St. Francis scored five runs in the seventh to close to within 9-7. JP Nolan of St. Francis was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to make it 9-3 before Vanderford sliced a home run to right-center field to make it 9-7 and provide St. Francis with hope.
"With the home run by Tei, we made Alemany scramble and bring in some more of their pitchers," Esquival said. "We had the opportunities to win.
"I'm proud that the guys showed fight and kept playing."