LA CAÑADA — It took a combined no-hitter and a walk-off hit, but nevertheless, the La Cañada High baseball team sealed a huge victory in its Rio Hondo League opener against Monrovia.
With runners on second and third in the bottom of the seventh, La Cañada’s leadoff hitter, Jacob Yonan, recorded his second hit and drove in George Steckbeck to end a well-played, thrilling game with a 2-1 Spartans’ win Friday afternoon at La Cañada.
The walk-off effort handed the Wildcats their first loss of the season with the two teams set to face each other again April 10 at Monrovia. The Spartans will travel to South Pasadena on Tuesday for a league game.
For now, the Spartans will revel and look to build on the program’s biggest win in recent memory.
“The guys battled out there,” said Spartans Coach Alex Valadez, who is in his first year at the helm after serving as assistant coach to Dennis Ballard the previous two seasons. “I’m almost speechless. This was a collective effort and I’m proud of our team.”
La Cañada’s Clayton Hermann picked up the win after getting a crucial strikeout and setting up the bottom half of the seventh heroics. Spartans starting pitcher Justin Lewis needed a no-hitter though 6 2/3 innings to keep up his end of a pitcher’s duel with counterpart Joe Mata.
Hermann relieved Lewis with two outs in the seventh and runners on first and second. Valadez admitted there was some hesitation about keeping the official no-hitter in tact, but strategy prevailed for the Spartans (3-1), as the right-handed Hermann struck out right-handed hitter Jacob Arfman.
“You always want to leave him in, but you gotta do what’s best for the team,” Valadez said. “There’s an emotional connection, but I needed to do what’s right for the team.
“Justin was lights out,” he added. “He was composed and picked his spots.”
Lewis gave up no earned runs, walked two (one intentional), hit two batters and struck out four. The junior said he would have liked to finish the game, but understood the decision.
“It would have been nice to have,” Lewis said. “Clayton works hard and he’s reliable. If there’s any uncertainty, he’s the guy you go with.”
The Wildcats (5-1) scored their only run in the second after Chris Burkholder advanced to second on a throwing error and then to third on a wild pitch. An Arfman grounder to first scored Burkholder before Lewis got out of the inning with a strikeout.
The left-handed hurler faced the minimum number of batters in the next three innings, and allowed La Cañada’s offense to tie the score in the fourth inning with three singles — the latter of which came off the bat of Daniel del Valle with the bases loaded.
Monrovia’s James Tubbs decided to go home on the dribbler, and Johnny Selsor beat the throw for the game-tying run. The Spartans weren’t able to score again, despite loading the bases with one out.
Neither team picked up a hit until Steckbeck’s single to left in the seventh started the late-game rally. The junior took second when the ball took a bad hop on the Monrovia left-fielder and moved to third on a balk call before Tommy Bartholetti walked and brought Yonan to the plate.
“I have a lot of confidence in him and knew he had a planned at-bat and a good approach,” Valadez said. “I told him to stay within himself. I tell the guys to not try to be superstars, but to play to their ability.”