Panthers claw way back into title chase

PASADENA — With the tacit threat of having its near two-decade long Prep League title streak snapped, the Pasadena Poly baseball team proved downright threatening Tuesday afternoon.

The host Panthers won their 11th straight contest behind a 13-hit attack from their offense and tough pitching from ace Chris Ward in defeating Webb, 10-0, in six innings in league play.

Poly (15-5 overall, 9-2 in league), ranked sixth in Division VI, is now tied with No. 4 Webb (19-4, 9-2) atop the league standings and can clinch its 17th straight league title and the league's top seed, via a 2-1 series victory over Webb, with a triumph Friday versus visiting Rio Hondo Prep at 3:30 p.m.

"What you're seeing now is a team playing its best baseball," Pasadena Poly Coach Wayne Ellis said. "Our hitting has really picked up and our pitching is as solid as ever."

The Panthers scored in five of six innings, keyed by junior catcher Caleb Lee, who was three for three with a homer, two doubles (nine total bases), three runs batted in and two runs scored.

"I really was just working on hitting the ball back up the middle," Lee said. "It's nice to play here with a 250-foot fence and I got some good pitches and put them in play."

Lee ended Tuesday's affair when he whipped a bases-loaded double into the right-center gap off Gauls' reliever Jordan Veiga that plated teammates Luke Asperger (two hits and two RBI) and Jonah Campell (three runs scored) in putting Poly up, 10-0, and initiating the mercy rule.

The double came on the heels of RBI singles from Asperger and David Orndorff that scored Joey Asperger (double and two runs) and shortstop Logan Beerman (three runs).

An inning earlier, Lee connected on a solo blast again to right-center field off Gauls' starter Aaron Digiamarino (7-3) that propelled the hosts ahead, 6-0.

Lee initially helped Poly take control thanks to two-run second inning that gave the Panthers a 3-0 advantage.

Lee singled and scored on a RBI double from Zack Bern, who came home when the very next batter, Ward, singled him home.

Ward's single was typical of a potent Poly attack, as the Panthers finished seven for 13 with runners in scoring position with nine RBI and two doubles.

"It was just a matter of time before the offense improved," Ellis said. "The good thing is that the pitching has been there."

Ward (9-0) was tough again Tuesday in six scoreless innings, scattering four hits and striking out four on 71 pitches. The 6-foot-7 hurler also kept the Gauls hitless in three at-bats with runners in scoring position.

"I worked on getting my fastball around and mixing in my cutter," Ward said. "I got a lot of ground balls and then my defense also bailed me out."

While the Panthers committed two errors, center fielder Davey Feess turned in a defensive gem with a diving catch in center field with two outs in the fourth that prevented two runs from scoring and kept Poly ahead, 3-0.

Webb, which defeated Poly, 7-4, on March 27 (Poly's last defeat) and lost to the Panthers, 5-1, two days later, can still clinch a share of its first league title since 1985 with a win at Flintridge Prep on Thursday.

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