GLENDALE — Just when it seemed like its playoff woes were bound to be lifted, the Crescenta Valley High baseball team suffered another first-round heartbreak at the hands of a double play.
The 1-0 loss to Yucaipa at Stengel Field in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division II tournament Friday night marked the Falcons' sixth in a row in the playoffs, with the past three all at home in the first round. Last season, the Falcons fell to Tustin, 7-4. Their last playoff victory came in a 2009 wild-card game and they haven't advanced to the second round of CIF since 2008.
“It's a tough, tough loss,” said Crescenta Valley Coach Phil Torres, whose team finished 20-8. “The big difference is last year we just rolled over. We didn't roll over and we had a chance to win it there in the end. We probably hit it the only place we could have to get a double play.”
With the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the eighth against Yucaipa, Crescenta Valley sent a slow chopper right over the mound and straight to second base.
Thunderbirds shortstop Dillon Rezendes caught the ball already standing on the base and then fired to first for the double play, which allowed the visitors to erupt in celebration.
From that final play to Yucaipa's game-winning hit and a host of other examples, Friday night's game lived up to the saying, “baseball is a game of inches.”
“If it's put a little bit more into the second-base hole, that's a two-RBI hit and we're walking off victorious and celebrating like they are,” said Crescenta Valley pitcher Brian Gadsby, who was nearly dominant in a complete-game effort, of the final play of the night.
Nothing had gone the way of Crescenta Valley's offense Friday, but it appeared change was in the air in the bottom of eighth. Faced with a one-run deficit, CV's Brett Klein put the tying run on first when he worked his way out of a 1-2 count and into a walk.
Things got even better on another 3-2 count when the Falcons' Joe Torres hit a slow grounder and possible double play to third. The ball was bobbled to put runners at second and first with one out and bring up CV's Ted Boeke, who hit a three-run homer in the seventh inning against Arcadia on May 11 to capture a share of the Pacific League title for the Falcons.
A wild pitch then gave Crescenta Valley runners at second and third with one out.
That's also when things went south again for the Falcons, though. The errant pitch skipped off the backstop and toward Crescenta Valley's dugout. While the ball itself never went out of bounds, Phil Torres said the catcher did so after picking the ball up.
The home-plate umpire ruled against that and didn't appeal for any assistance from the two other officials, despite several pleas from the Falcons’ skipper.
“He wouldn't get help and that's my frustration. There's three [umpires] and he won't get help, that's arrogance,” said Phil Torres, who believed it should have scored a run and tied the game. “[The home-plate umpire] put his hands safe, like it was live, but it wasn't live because the kid caught it and then stepped into our dugout.”
Yucaipa (19-9) intentionally walked Boeke for the second time in the game to bring the double play into effect and that's exactly what the Thunderbirds, who will play Oxnard in the second round Tuesday, got.
Crescenta Valley had just three hits – two from Michael Russo and another from Torres – against a trio of Yucaipa pitchers. It also had its final out in the bottom of the sixth and seventh innings recorded on the base paths, as pinch runners were caught attempting to steal second in both frames.
“They're tough, they threw a lot of breaking balls for strikes,” said Phil Torres of Yucaipa's pitching staff.
Gadsby was also brilliant on the mound. The sophomore ace gave up seven hits and struck out four, while not giving up any free passes.
“I just knew I couldn't go in hitting batters and walking guys,” Gadsby said. “I just had to throw strikes and I did that. I had a great catcher setting up behind me, helping me out and a great defense behind me keeping me calm. We just fell short.”
Yucaipa's biggest hit may have been its softest. Tom Leroughe of the Thunderbirds started the top of the eighth with a single through the infield. He moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and third on a groundout to shortstop. With a 2-2 count, Mark Lucas blooped a ball into no-man's land – right over the second baseman and in front of the diving right fielder – to break the scoreless drought.
Russo had a great game all around for CV. The junior left fielder helped keep the game scoreless when he gunned down Yucaipa's Kyle Roy, who singled, at the plate for the final out in the top of the seventh off a Billy Baldwin single past the third baseman. The throw beat Roy home by a mile and Crescenta Valley catcher Johnny Psaltis did a good job blocking off the plate and holding onto the ball after a collision.
Outside of the eighth, Crescenta Valley had its best chance to get on the board in the bottom of the fourth. Bryan Wang drew a leadoff, full-count walk to start the inning and Russo smashed the first pitch he saw into right field. An Austin Brines sacrifice bunt gave the Falcons runners at second and third with one out, but none would come across.
Crescenta Valley's Nolan Rea nearly looped a ball over second base when the defense was drawn in, but Yucaipa's Scotty James made a great leaping catch to keep the game level.
“If Nolan's ball is an inch higher or two inches higher we get two runs on that play, too,” Phil Torres said. “It's a tough one, it's tough all the way around. There's a million things we'll talk about tonight at dinner.”