GLENDALE — In its first trip to a semifinal game since 1960, the Flintridge Prep baseball team ran into a buzz saw that was top-ranked Desert Christian Academy.
There was still hope for another miraculous Rebels comeback after a three-run bottom of the fourth inning. That frame proved the only bright spot for the home team after four errors and slow-starting offense put it in a hole that proved too deep in a 12-4 loss to the Conquerors Tuesday.
Ultimately, Flintridge Prep just ran into a better team in the CIF Southern Section Division VI final-four game at the Glendale Sports Complex. The Rebels (18-9) had just three hits, while top-seeded Desert Christian (28-2) had six players with multi-hit games and 16 base knocks in total.
“They're well deserving of that seed, they're a great team,” first-year Flintridge Prep Coach Guillermo Gonzalez said. “One through nine can hit and their pitching staff is great. They deserve that seed because I think they're probably the best ball club in our division.”
Prep’s offensive woes were compounded by four errors on the defensive side. While the Rebels couldn’t find a way to stop the bleeding, the Conquerors had a bona fide stopper when things turned south in ace pitcher Morgan Earman, who quickly ended Prep’s lone rally.
After jumping out to a 7-0 lead in the top of the fourth, Desert Christian saw the home crowd and team get a shot of life after Flintridge Prep center fielder Daniel Enzminger cut down Conquerors starting pitcher Chris Palmer at the plate after a great block and tag by catcher Dylan Arya.
Palmer, who took a no-hitter into the bottom of the fourth, walked the first batter he saw in the frame. Cole Pilar (two for three) gave the Rebels their first hit and run of the game with a single up the middle that scored the leadoff runner.
It took one swing of Karlsen Termini’s bat to put some real fear into the Conquerors, as the Flintridge Prep senior blasted a two-run homer over the left-field fence to pull his team within 7-3.
“Anything is really possible with this team, everyone is always stepping up to the plate this year, all the underclassmen and the seniors,” said Termini, who was one for one with three runs batted in. “That's just how it’s been this year, so I never thought we were out of it.”
The Rebels' threat mounted on an error and walk, which put the tying run at the plate with one out. That’s when Desert Christian turned to Earman.
“We were trying to save Earman for the last inning, but we just had to bring him in right there to get us out of that pinch,” said Desert Christian Coach Mark Salazar of his ace, who’d allowed just nine runs (three earned) in 70 1/3 innings coming into the game. “We planned it out in the playoffs so he'd have two starts, but we'd have him ready in any game to get us into the next one.”
Earman lived up to his numbers and reputation and quickly induced a slow grounder to third and struck out the next batter to end the inning and keep his team up four.
“We thought we got through their No. 2, but they brought in their No. 1 and their No. 1's no joke,” said Gonzalez, who credited his team for forcing the Conquerors to turn to Earman. “They wanted to save him for the championship, at least we got to see him. A lot of people didn't think we were going to see him.”
The Rebels' woes continued, as Desert Christian got two runs back in the fifth on a costly error and wild pitch.
A leadoff walk and single into right field from Desert Christian's Austin Hughes was stretched into a run-scoring triple on an error. The ball took an awkward bounce and went past the fielder and all the way to the fence. A wild pitch scored Hughes to increase the Conquerors lead to six, 9-3.
“We had a lot of errors and we only average about one a game,” Gonzalez said. “That was a big jump for us and it killed us. We gave them extra at-bats, extra hits and it bit us right in the butt.”
Prep managed to chip one run closer, adding an unearned tally off Earman in the bottom of the fifth.
The Rebels’ Cole Rademacher reached on an error and a Pilar single and a balk put both runners in scoring position. Termini then lined a shot into what's usually the left-center field gap, but Desert Christian’s outfield was playing over to make the play. It turned what would have been a sure two-bagger into a sacrifice fly.
The Conquerors capped the scoring with three more runs on four hits and another Flintridge Prep error in the sixth.
While the Rebels fell short of adding to their historic campaign, as their only other trip to a title game came in a 1951 loss, Gonzalez hopes 2013 is the start of a new chapter in Prep baseball.
“It’s hard to get to the semifinals, a lot of people wish they’re in the same position that we are,” said Gonzalez, who took over a team that failed to make the playoffs last year. “They’ve seen it, they've tasted it and hopefully they're hungry for more now.”