Big innings full of fielding errors and clutch hits have been the difference makers during this unprecedented Moore League baseball season.
Lakewood lost at home late last month because of a big inning from Long Beach Poly, and on Wednesday the Lancers used a big fifth inning to beat Millikan 5-1 on the road.
“Coming into the game the loss to Poly was weighing down on us but we just had to keep our heads up, keep playing and keep fighting for that league title,” Lakewood pitcher Anthony Eyanson said.
The Lakewood win and Long Beach Poly’s loss to Wilson means the Lancers and Jackrabbits are tied for first place in the Moore League after the first round of play.
“We’ve felt like a first place team since the beginning,” Lakewood senior Diego Gutierrez said. “We just have to keep it going good.”
Gutierrez drove in the first run for Lakewood in the four-run fifth inning, and then the senior came out of the bullpen to pitch three scoreless innings by pounding the strike zone. He only gave up one hit.
“When you have a lead when relieving it just takes the weight off your shoulders, especially against a good team like this,” Gutierrez said. “If I don’t pound the zone bad things happen, like against Poly.”
Eyanson scattered three hits in four innings in his second league start against the other top teams. Millikan broke through in the fourth inning when senior Bilal Ali got on base with a one-out single, and pitcher Myles Patton drove him in with a 2-out RBI double.
“It was tight and when they scored first no ones shoulders went down,” Lakewood coach Spud O’Neil said. “That’s what’s been happening at the beginning of the season. We knew we had a chance (today) at least.”
Lakewood second baseman James Provencio led off the top of the fifth inning with a double to right center field, and took third on a prefect bunt by Blake Jones. Millikan first baseman Dean Ormonde and catcher Troy Harding made a great play on another bunt attempt to cut down Provencio at the plate, but Gutierrez brought Jones home with a ground ball RBI to left field.
“Sometimes we start to get under balls and it doesn’t go our way,” Gutierrez said. “But when we start putting balls on the ground things just happen, especially at Millikan. We were just sitting dead red fast ball. I got the hit and run sign to just put it in play and it just happened.”
Eyanson followed that up with an RBI double to left center field, and then Jared Stephenson brought Gutierrez home with an RBI single through the right side. Eyanson would cap the four-run inning by scoring on an error. Millikan committed five errors in the game.
“Too many errors in the first three innings forces our guy to throw more pitches and eventually that caught up with him,” Millikan coach Ron Keester said of Patton. “He got a little bit tired. An 0-2 pitch to their nine hitter turns into a double and all of a sudden here they go. They took full advantage of what we were doing.”
O’Neil said his team played well because of two really good days of practice this week.
“You have to play good defense and I don’t think that happened on their part, and we did,” O’Neil said. “That’s just high school baseball.”
Patton only gave up two hits before the decisive fifth inning. He struck out five with no walks.
Lakewood added an insurance run off reliever Daniel Murillo in the sixth inning when Provencio led off with a single and ended up scoring on an error. He and Jones were the only Lancers with two hits.
“I was just trying to hit the first pitch and make contact because I haven’t been doing too hot lately so I was just trying to shorten up,” Provencio said.
Gutierrez hit the ball that turned into the run scoring error it the sixth, and then he got some help from Jones who tracked down a long fly ball off the bat of Patton in the seventh inning. Gutierrez picked off a runner and forced another fly out to end the game.
“He’s the best player on our team,” O’Neil said of Gutierrez. “He’s the first guy at practice who does everything we ask of him. He’s a great leader.”
Lakewood (13-8, 5-1) visits Cabrillo next Wednesday while Millikan hosts Jordan. The Rams (11-3, 3-2) are tied for second place with Wilson.