The562’s high school baseball and softball coverage for the 2022 season is sponsored by LBUSD Board of Education Member Megan Kerr.
The562’s coverage of Long Beach Wilson Athletics is sponsored by Joel Bitonio, Class of 2009
Over the second half of Moore League play, the Wilson Bruins (19-9, 10-2) did everything in their power to give themselves a shot at a league title. The last hurdle for Wilson to clear was a win over Lakewood (17-11, 9-3), which happened on Wednesday afternoon on the final day of games.
Behind a complete game shutout from senior Charlie Royle, the Bruins earned a 2-0 victory over the Lancers to earn a second place finish in league. Wilson needed Millikan to lose to Poly in the nightcap, but the Rams won 1-0 in a walk-off finish to clinch the title outright. Still, no team in the league was better than Wilson down the stretch, and the Bruins are now riding an eight game winning streak into the Division 4 playoffs.
“I’m very pleased with the way we’re playing the last 3-4 weeks,” said Wilson head coach Andy Hall after the win. “We’ve gone from a team that was kind of playing not to lose to a team that’s playing to win, and that’s a big difference.”
After an 8-0 loss to the Lancers in their previous meeting this season, the Bruins made a 10-run improvement in game two. A big part of that effort was Royle, who returned to a starting role after being limited to bullpen duty the past few weeks. He’s been dealing with a back injury but was recently cleared to get back into a starting role, and though he didn’t have his “lights out” stuff, he did the job that mattered: not letting the other team score.
“Doggone Charlie Royle just keeps grinding,” Hall said. “I think he made a very, very strong statement for himself to be Pitcher of the Year in the Moore League.”
Make no mistake, Wednesday’s start was a grind. After retiring the first batter of the bottom of the first inning, Royle allowed three consecutive singles to load the bases with one out. However, his defense turned a crucial double play with Jake Fox taking the ball to second base for the second out and Ryan Burack making a terrific dig at first to end the threat with no runs coming across.
“Confidence in your defense is super important in these games,” Royle said. “Especially for Moore League games when it gets down to the bitter end. It's really nice to be able to trust them like that.”
Lakewood took a more aggressive approach with Royle in the early going, putting the first pitch of an at-bat in play six times in the first three innings. That came with success, as the Lancers hitters were 4-for-6 in those plate appearances. The Lancers stranded seven runners on base, however, while Royle was able to keep his pitch count down and go the distance.
Meanwhile, the Wilson offense got to Lakewood’s Anthony Eyanson early, ending his Moore League scoreless innings streak at 29.1 IP. Nathan Gomez-Gardenswartz (3/3, 3B, R) opened the top of the second inning with a triple into left center, starting the decisive two-run rally for Wilson.
After a groundout and a walk, Josh Jacobsen laid down a perfect squeeze bunt to bring home Gomez-Gardenswartz for the game’s first run. After a single by Xander McLaurin, the Bruins tacked on an unearned run when Jake Fox came in to score on a Lancers error, making it 2-0 Wilson in the second.
“It was a great feeling,” said Gomez-Gardenswartz of starting that crucial rally. “Especially with this being our last game. it meant a lot to me, because I knew it meant a lot to Charlie and this whole team, basically. So yeah, it was really good to get the rally started and get some runs across first.”
That was the only damage against Eyanson, who lasted six innings before reaching his maximum pitch count. He was uncharacteristically erratic to start the game, throwing a first-pitch strike to just 4 of the first 13 batters he faced. But after a leadoff walk in the third, Eyanson delivered first-pitch strikes to 10 consecutive batters and racked up six of his seven strikeouts in his final three innings of work.
Eyanson also got some help from his defense, especially in the third inning. After a leadoff walk to Zack Wakefield, Aaron Mingo smacked a double into deep left center. Lakewood did a terrific job with their relay, however, and Nohea Mapu’s throw to the plate was on the money to nab Wakefield trying to score from first.
After a single put runners at the corners, more good defense from Lakewood ended the threat. Taylor Kirk sent what appeared to be a routine sac fly to right field, but Jacob Elliot unleashed a perfect throw to the plate to get Mingo for the inning-ending double play.
Lakewood’s offense continued to put runners on, cranking out nine hits off Royle, but the Bruins made some key defensive plays, including a great over-the-shoulder catch by Diego Orozco in left. The Lancers put the leadoff man on in the fourth, sixth, and seventh, but were unable to bring a run across.
After sweeping the second round of league play and winning their last eight games of the season, the Bruins are riding high with the playoffs around the corner. Gomez-Gardenswartz said the team’s confidence is as high as it can be right now, and the Bruins are hoping to ride that momentum the rest of the way.
“Honestly, I couldn't even put a finger on what changed, but something changed with the attitude (of this team), how we interact with each other,” the senior catcher explained. “It's huge. I'm really excited for the next couple of games because I think we're just going to keep rolling on.”