Twelve games into the 2016 high school baseball season, La Quinta coach Brent Conley was still searching for consistency with a roster made up of 10 seniors, but the last thing he wanted was for the Blackhawks’ 13-0 loss to Fountain Valley Tuesday morning to become the new normal.
Yet, after a slow start in the team’s second game of the day, Conley’s crew found their rhythm at the plate and managed to come back from a 2-0 deficit heading into the bottom of the fifth inning for a 3-2 victory over the Coachella Valley Arabs (7-5) in both teams’ final pool play game of the Coachella Valley Rotary Baseball Tournament.
With wins in each of their two games Tuesday, the Blackhawks (7-4-2) would have had an opportunity to avenge a 2-0 loss to valley foe Shadow Hills nearly three weeks ago in Wednesday’s championship game. Instead, they’ll face Desert Christian Academy, who lost their three games this week by a combined score of 39-9.
Certainly, Conley would rather be playing for hardware.
“But I’m thrilled that we have a chance to try and see if the boys can come out with some consistency,” Conley said.
The Blackhawks’ coach added he thought the team appeared to start Tuesday afternoon’s game a bit slowly, still down about the beating they had suffered a few hours before. Junior starting pitcher Evan Berkey gave up an infield single to Arab senior Oscar Zepeda in leadoff, and after Zepeda stole second base two batters later, senior Edgar Lopez sent him home on an RBI single to shallow right.
Meanwhile, the Blackhawks were putting the bat on the ball, but 10 of their 12 registered outs in the first four innings came on fly outs to the outfield.
“We just need to hit the ball hard on the ground and on a line, and not up in the air like we did today for five innings,” Conley said.
After the Arabs tacked on a run in the third inning off a sacrifice fly from Lopez, the Blackhawk bats started to click, with a single from Berkey and double from senior Frankie Silva in the fifth inning, but Conley made a poor call on the base paths — one he admitted himself after the game — to send his pitcher home, getting him thrown out by a good 10 feet.
Senior Joel Osuna, undeterred by the play at the plate, came up to bat next and ran out infield contact, lucking out on an error on the Arabs as Silva crossed the plate to put La Quinta on the board. Still, La Quinta trailed 2-1, wishing Conley had waited one more batter before sending Berkey home.
Lucky for Conley, the following inning, senior Trey Ladner quickly turned a leadoff single into the tying, run, capitalizing off an error from Coachella Valley catcher Fabio Solorzano that sent him to third base, with Eddie Lafeyette reaching base as well. Senior Jacob Mesa crafted contact into the hole between first and second, easily scoring Ladner before Lafeyette slid into home on a close play at the plate.
All the sudden, they were three outs away from closing the game, rather than needing a last-inning rally.
“I told the boys thanks for picking me up, ‘cause that really could have been the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Conley said of his coaching error. “We always talk about trying to take all the opportunities — to take the positive bases we can, even if it doesn’t require a hit, so for them to be heads up a lot of the time, it shows they’re trying to play baseball the right way.”
Wednesday’s Rotary Baseball Tournament Schedule
(all games start at 10 a.m.)
Fountain Valley at Shadow Hills – championship game
Desert Christian Academy at La Quinta
Calipatria at Indio
Xavier Prep at Coachella Valley