There was a standing-room-only crowd that filled the Sherman Oaks Notre Dame baseball stadium on Monday. It was a pretty impressive achievement considering students are on spring break.
Then again, it was one of the featured high school games of the season. Notre Dame and USC-bound Lucas Gordon were taking on Harvard-Westlake and Vanderbilt-bound Sam Hliboki in the first of a three-game series to decide the Mission League championship.
“This was one of the most fun days I’ve had on the baseball field,” Hliboki said after striking out six and walking none in 6 2/3 innings of Harvard-Westlake’s 5-2 victory over the Knights.
Harvard-Westlake (23-3-1, 14-1-1) moved 1½ games ahead of Notre Dame (21-6, 13-3) going into Tuesday’s next game at O’Malley Field. The Wolverines need one more win to clinch the title.
“We want both,” said Pete Crow-Armstrong, who led off the game with a single and scored to keep Gordon on the defensive. Harvard-Westlake got its leadoff batter aboard four times against Gordon, who was challenged even before his first pitch.
In a show of playoff-like focus, Harvard-Westlake coach Jared Halpert noticed during warmups that Gordon had a white number on his blue long-sleeve shirt. Gordon said he has been using the shirt all season but Halpert pointed it out to the umpire. The game was delayed until a Notre Dame coach took a black marker and filled in the white to make it legal.
“It wasn’t a big deal,” Gordon said. “Just kind of annoying.”
Michael Snyder hit a sacrifice fly in the first inning to score Crow-Armstrong. He also started a three-run fourth with a single. The big hit in the inning was by sophomore George Cooper, who had a two-run double. Cooper added a home run in the seventh.
Notre Dame had early opportunities against Hliboki, but he stranded runners at third in the first and second innings. Hliboki has come on strong with three complete games in his last four outings after starting the season as if he weren’t an ace.
“Early on, I was struggling,” he said. “My mentality switched and I learned to trust my defense with everything.”
Said Halpert: “Every performance has been better.”
Now it comes down to whether Notre Dame can force a game three to decide the league title. Game two is expected to have Notre Dame use Yale-bound Carter Kessinger on the mound against Harvard-Westlake sophomore Christian Becerra. If the Knights win, the championship will be decided on Thursday at Notre Dame.
“We have to let this one go and win us a series,” said Gordon, who struck out two, walked two and gave up seven hits.