Life without Estrada rough for Aztecs against Division 1 foe

Life without Estrada rough for Aztecs against Division 1 foe

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Life without Estrada rough for Aztecs against Division 1 foe

For the last decade, the Palm Desert baseball team has been a stalwart in Divisions 2 and 3 in the postseason, winning two CIF titles in 2010 and 2012, along with other deep runs as recent as last year’s semifinals bid.

Corona's Chase Robison slides and scores.

Corona’s Chase Robison slides and scores.

During the previous three seasons, those runs have been led, in part, by the team’s star pitcher, senior UCLA-commit Jeremiah Estrada, who has a shot to be picked in the first day of the MLB draft this summer. But Palm Desert coach Darol Salazar said he’s been given indication by CIF Southern Section officials that the Aztecs could be bumped up to Division 1 next year, when Estrada will be on a mound somewhere on a higher level and not at their disposal up against the top talent in the state when the postseason comes around.

Unfortunately, the Aztecs got an early taste of what life in the true upper echelon of southern California baseball will be a like without their ace Thursday night after Estrada left the Aztesc’ battle with Division 1 No. 7 Corona just three batters in. Without him, the Panthers sprinkled the diamond with hits in their 5-0 victory, a rematch of Corona’s 10-6 win earlier in the month.

A hard laser of a hit off Michael Hobbs’ bat came straight back at Estrada early in the first inning and nailed him on the upper forearm, leading to Corona’s first single of the game. Immediately, the ace bent over in pain, and the Palm Desert coaching staff hustled out to the mound for a conference. Estrada attempted to throw a half-speed pitch, but it sailed over catcher Tony Boetto’s head, and the decision was clear.

Junior pitcher Travis Adams soon trotted out to the mound, but it wasn’t quite the same. Two singles in the first two batters led to a run – the only one the Panthers needed in the end.

“We’re very confident when he (Jeremiah) is on the mound,” Salazar said. “But we’ve got to respond better than that. We have to come out and battle. They’re a pretty good team. I thought we pitched pretty well, but when we made some mistakes and left some pitches up, they made us pay.”

Corona's Chase Robison slides back to the first base.

Corona’s Chase Robison slides back to the first base.

The Aztecs responded with three baserunners combined the in next three innings as they tried to claw their way back to even, but Palm Desert could never string together the back-to-back hits they needed.

In the fourth, Corona landed its first three batters on base – single, error, hit-by-pitch – before a passed ball allowed their second run. A two-RBI single from Hobbs scored two more, and the one-run game had suddenly become a four-run deficit.

“That one big inning took the wind out of our sails,” Salazar said. “I think they were fighting up until then, and we had some good at-bats, but we just couldn’t string them together.”

Max Puls hitting the ball in Palm Desert's 5-0 loss to Corona.

Max Puls hitting the ball in Palm Desert’s 5-0 loss to Corona.

After surrendering 10 runs to the Panthers in the first meeting, Salazar was relatively happy with his pitching performance out of Adams, especially with the expectation of Estrada going the distance. But Thursday’s contest made clear the element of near pitching perfection the Aztecs will be missing in a year while potentially up against teams like Corona in the early rounds of the postseason.

“When we left some pitches up, they made us pay, and they’re a good team,” Salazar said. “Their guy was really hitting his spots, and they played great defense, while we gave them some extra outs, which they took advantage of.

“A really good team is going to do that.”

Max Puls looking to catch a foul ball in Palm Desert's 5-0 loss to Corona.

Max Puls looking to catch a foul ball in Palm Desert’s 5-0 loss to Corona.

After losing starting pitcher Jeremiah Estrada in the first inning, the Aztecs struggled in their 5-0 loss to Corona.

After losing starting pitcher Jeremiah Estrada in the first inning, the Aztecs struggled in their 5-0 loss to Corona.

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