The Harvard-Westlake Wolverines and Bishop Alemany Warriors, both nationally ranked high school baseball teams, are used to things going their way, but what makes both teams so great is how resilient they are when things aren’t going their way. The tremendous mental toughness of both teams was on full display during their most recent matchup Tuesday afternoon, as all seven runs scored in the game were generated with two outs in the inning.
“That’s a credit to two teams that just battled their butts off,” says Bishop Alemany manager Randy Thompson. “You know that when you play them [the Wolverines], they’re so well-coached, that you’re going to be in for a dog fight.”
With Mission League title implications at stake on Tuesday (heading into this week, the second-to-last of the regular season, Alemany held just a one game lead over Harvard-Westlake for second place in the Mission League standings), it would be the home Warriors to strike last and emerge (for now) as the top dog.
Determined to leapfrog Alemany in the Mission League standings, Harvard-Westlake quickly snatched the momentum in the first inning when junior designated hitter Leo Kaplan drilled a sharp ground ball single through the infield to score junior third baseman John Thomas (two hits on the day). Kaplan would strike again in the third inning, collecting his second RBI of the day on a line drive single into right field. A bullet of a throw to home by Alemany senior right fielder Cristian Montes made for a close play at the plate, but Harvard-Westlake starting pitcher Cameron Deere (also two hits) slid safely across to give his Wolverines the early 2-0 lead.
Through 2 ‚Öî innings, Deere’s hits as a batter (two) outnumbered the hits he relented to Alemany’s entire squad (one). Alemany junior shortstop Will Picketts (one hit and two runs scored) managed to breathe a little bit of life into the Warriors’ sputtering offense when he earned a walk on a 3-2 pitch that just barely missed the strike zone (and, according to the very vocal visiting Wolverine crowd, didn’t actually miss). That small breath of life became a huge sigh of relief with one swing of the bat from Alemany senior left fielder Alex McKenna, who belted a home run over the left field fence to tie the score at 2-2. “I was kind of thinking they were going to throw me something in,” recalls McKenna (2-2 with a walk). “They threw me a fastball inner half of the plate, and I jumped on it. I just took a good swing at a good pitch.”
It didn’t take the Wolverines very long to shake off the disappointment. With two outs in the top of the fourth inning, junior left fielder Paul Giacomazzi singled and then, in a prime example of “heads-up” baserunning, scampered all the way to third base on a bunt single by senior shortstop Ezra Steinberg. Thomas then smacked another single to score Giacomazzi (1-2 with a sacrifice bunt) and help Harvard-Westlake regain the lead.
Trailing 3-2 in the bottom of the sixth inning, Alemany was once again in need of answers. With two outs in the inning, senior catcher Rece Reagan dropped a single into left field. Picketts then singled to put runners at the corners for the Warriors. Deere elected to throw four straight balls to third inning hero McKenna and take his chances on senior center fielder Ruben Cardenas with the bases loaded.
Cardenas made him pay, ripping a double to center field that scored Reagan and Picketts and gave Alemany the late 4-3 lead. “I got a fastball away and just went with it,” recalls Cardenas of his go-ahead RBI. “Thank God it dropped.”
rnYankie with a dandy
The slim one-run-lead was all Alemany senior starting pitcher Carter Yankie needed to seal the 4-3 complete game win. Consistently throwing strikes all game long, Yankie’s first four frames served as an example of great pitching succumbing to even better hitting, as Harvard-Westlake managed nine hits and three runs off the Warrior ace.“I realized in the first few innings that they could hit pretty well. They had good approaches,” says Yankie. “They were seeing my fastball and sitting on my fastball. So I was basically thinking that I need to throw more offspeed for first pitches instead of fastballs.”
The adjustment certainly paid off, as Yankie only got better with each passing inning. In a shining display of mental toughness, Yankie struck out three batters and didn’t give up any hits over the final three innings. During that stretch, he allowed only two baserunners (one of whom reached base on an error). “Carter was in a zone all game long,” says Thompson of his starter. “And if you’re going to throw a complete game against Harvard-Westlake, it requires you to be in the strike zone all day long. He really buckled down in the fifth, and we rode him the rest of the way.”
Yankie saved his best for last, striking out the final two Harvard-Westlake batters of the game. “When it gets into a situation like that [late in a close game], you just gotta be like a bulldog,” says Yankie of his grand finale. “It’s just you and the catcher. You just gotta think that in the last inning and forget everything else. That’s what I did, and it worked.” “He always goes out there and competes,” adds Cardenas of Yankie. “That’s what we love about him.”
And Yankie’s ability to continue to compete despite being behind truly epitomized the resiliency of the entire Alemany squad Tuesday. Putting together two separate two-out comebacks against a team as talented as Harvard-Westlake is no small feat. But it’s the kind of effort the Alemany players have come to expect from one another. “We just don’t give up,” explains McKenna. “When we have to get the job done, everyone in the dugout knows we’re capable of doing it. We kind of just come together as a team, and we get it done.”
rnUp next: the rematch
Now in joint possession of first place in the Mission League with Loyola (who lost 4-3 to Notre Dame - Sherman Oaks on Tuesday), Alemany’s quest to earn sole possession of the League title begins on Friday with a rematch against Harvard-Westlake, this time on the Wolverines’ home field. “Whoever is going to start [on the mound] needs to keep it low and in the strike zone,” says Yankie. “Any time the ball is elevated, they’ll take advantage of it. And for our hitters, I think we need to see curveballs a little bit better, and we’ll be good.” “It’s going to be a another good game,” predicts McKenna. “This Mission League is crazy. We just gotta come out with the same mentality and we gotta expect that they’re going to bring their best. We’re going to bring our best, and hopefully things go our way.”
Alemany starting third baseman Christian Goretti was injured on a collision with a Harvard-Westlake baserunner in the first inning, and promptly pulled from the game. His timetable for a return has not yet been announced.