POMONA - Arroyo Seco entered a critical two game series against Inland Valley needing to sweep the Bucs to lock up a playoff spot and got the job done late Saturday night in thrilling fashion.
Although Arroyo Seco left runners on base in both the first and the second innings, the Sentinels took an early 3-0 lead in the first inning on a run scoring single by Jason Ajamian and a big fly by Brock Bell that scored two and set the tone early.
“I was trying to just work middle,” Bell said. “I know he had a good slider, so I was just trying to stay up the middle, and just put a good swing on it.”
Pitching with a comfortable 3-0 lead that grew to a 4-0 lead on a Nick Atkins RBI groundout, Sentinels starter Race Gardner looked strong through two innings, but coughed up the lead in the third after giving up a three run opposite field Inland Valley home run that capped a five run inning and staked the Bucs to a 5-4 lead.
This, however, was the only time the Bucs would score. After Gardner limped through the third inning, Sentinels Head Coach Justin Togeas turned the game over to Lowell Schippers, needing the reliever to be on top of his game in order to both preserve bullpen arms for tomorrow’s win or go home game and to keep the Sentinels in a position to rally and win the game. Schippers obliged, tossing five scoreless innings to go along with five strikeouts to earn the win.
“It’s a big game, so what I’m thinking about is just keeping the team in it. A lot of the guys there couldn’t hit the fastball bottom of the order,” Schippers said, “so I was throwing a lot of fastballs and then when it came to the top of the order I really had to locate my breaking ball.”
Schippers threw five scoreless innings but also allowed his fair share of baserunners as the game progressed, but rose to the occasion each time he ran into trouble. In the seventh inning with the go ahead run on second base and only one out, Schippers got out of the inning with a fly out and a called strike three on a full count. The very next inning, Schipper had runners on first and second base and two outs, but catcher Darron Teson made a spectacular sliding catch to end the inning.
“What I was really trying to do was keep anything from [being] a base hit,” Schippers said. “I was really trying to elevate the ball, just give our outfield the chance to throw it rather than let a ground ball get through. I was trying to get us a force out. When I walked the guy with two outs, I wasn’t really trying to throw strikes because the number nine hitter ended up popping up that bunt because he hadn’t gotten a hit all game.”
Teson, one of three catchers that Coach Togeas feels comfortable using behind the dish threw out two runners attempting to steal second base in addition to catching the bunt attempt to end the eighth inning.
“I’ve always been a defensive catcher, so I was just trying to help the team out. When a guy goes, that’s my thing - I like to throw people out and it’s just natural I guess.”
In the ninth inning, the game was still tied and showed no signs of ending. Lowell Schippers had pitched five scoreless innings and looked to be in cruise control and Adrian Guzman had pitched two innings of shutout ball for the Bucs and also looked to have his pitches working for him. But like they have done all season long, the Sentinels found a way to win, this time with Brock Bell reaching first on a throwing error with two outs and hustling to second base when the throw zipped past first base.
Andres Kim took a look at strike one and then turned on a slider, hitting a rocket past first base and into the outfield sending Brock Bell racing around third and sliding under the tag at the plate to score the winning run and keep the playoff push alive and well.
“I was just trying to find a way on base,” Kim said. “Mentality was to get the next guy up, find a way on. Luckily, the pitcher left a slider up, and I was able to take it the other way and find a way to drive that run in.”
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Brock’s Bomb - In the first inning with Brandon Posivak on first base, Brock Bell hit his second home run of the season, this one out to center field to put the Sentinels up 3-0.
Defensive Darron - With the score tied 5-5 the Bucs tried to steal a win, sending runners in motion, but catcher Darron Teson was ready. He threw two missiles across the infield, the first one nailing a runner at second to end the fourth inning, and the second one to erase a one out base runner. Later in the game with the score still tied and runners on first and second with two outs, Malcolm Smith tried to catch the Sentinels off guard and bunt for a base hit but Teson was ready again, springing out of his crouch and making a sliding catch in foul ground to end the inning.
“If you’re the guy that makes it 7-4 instead of 5-4, you don’t want to be that guy.” - Lowell Schippers on his mentality pitching in a one run game.
“To not shut down and [instead] keep battling, that’s probably a game that most of the time you don’t win.” - Head Coach Justin Togeas gives the keys to tonight’s win.
Arroyo Seco is back home on Sunday, hosting the same Bucs in a game that sends the winner to Palm Springs to the face the Power in the first round of the SCCBL Playoffs, and the loser home. First pitch is at 6:00 p.m.