Chris Rivera kept the Watsonville High baseball team in contention for its first league title since 1991 with an overpowering 18-strikeout performance Wednesday to beat host Alvarez 8-0 in what was probably a Monterey Bay League Pacific Division elimination game.
Only one game separated Alvarez, Watsonville and North Salinas before Wednesday in what has been a season-long battle for first place between three schools that either haven’t won a title in more than 20 years or not at all.
It’s more of two-team race now between North Salinas, which last won a league crown in 1990, and Watsonville. The Vikings are 12-1, Watsonville 14-2 and Alvarez, which was trying for its first championship in the 18-year history of the program, dipped to 11-4.
Rivera, a junior right-hander, struck out the side four times. Of his 18 strikeouts 10 were swinging third strikes. He had seven three-pitch strikeouts in a game where he threw about 112 pitches.
He gave up three hits, walked two and hit two.
Rivera used the strikeout pitch to bail himself out of trouble in the first and second innings. A hit batter, error and two passed balls put Eagles at second and third with one out in the first. He struck out the next two hitters.
Rivera’s most impressive inning may have been the third. With the game 0-0, Rivera hit the first batter in the inning and went 3-0 on the next. He then pumped in nine consecutive strikes to the next three hitters to put an emphatic end to the threat.
His fastball was estimated to be between 85-87, but it was his curveball that impressed Alvarez coach John Martine.
“His fastball is decent but his curveball is unbelievable,” Martine said. “It’s a difficult curveball for a high school player to pick up because he throws it as hard as most pitchers throw their fastball. It’s up there in the high 70s.”
Eleven of the of the first Alvarez outs were all strikeouts. The only putout made by the Wildcatz in the field during the first four innings came when catcher Ryan Olmeda threw out a runner trapped of second base.
The three Alvarez hits were a single to left by Gonzalo Rocha in the third inning, a double to left-center by Ricky Torres in the fourth and another double by Javier Tellez with one out in the sixth. All three are sophomores.
Alvarez was its own worst enemy at times. The Eagles committed seven errors, which led to three unearned Watsonville runs in the third inning and another in the sixth.
The Wildcatz didn’t score any earned runs until the the seventh inning when they scored four times on four hits.
Next game for Alvarez is Friday against Pajaro Valley at Watsonville High.
Watsonville’s next league game is Wednesday, May 14 when it goes to North Salinas where the league title will likely be decided.