June 15, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

Cypress stays focused to notch key Empire League victory over Crean Lutheran

Players from Cypress and Crean Lutheran exchange handshakes after Wednesday’s game. (Photos: Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone).

Cypress High School baseball players have one goal in sight to win another Empire League title.

But the Centurions weren’t looking ahead Wednesday. Cypress came out ready to play and captured an 11-4 victory over Crean Lutheran on the Saints field to remain one game behind league-leading Pacifica with three league games.

If the Centurions (15-10-1, 6-1) can notch another win over Crean Lutheran (13-10, 3-4) Friday at Cypress, they can focus on a two-game series with Pacifica next week, then the CIF playoffs.

Crean Lutheran also has a big three games ahead as it battles for the third and final automatic CIF playoff berth.

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“We can’t look ahead, like I was just telling them, it’s almost kind of a blessing that we lost one because no matter what happens now, especially if we win Friday, we have to win out to win the league,” said Cypress Coach John Weber, who has led his team to a share of 10 straight league titles.

“That’s actually nice going into the playoffs where we have to play with the potential of losing and you’re done, we’ve won the league for so many years in a row now, so we’re in a situation now where we’re not normally used to. The kids know it, they read the wall every day and I’ve done a good job of saying, ‘are you going to be the first group to not win one in a long, long time’ which is kind of challenging and can make them play with some tightness.

“But that’s how we’re going to have to move forward in the playoffs anyway, right? I’ve been telling them since day one, we’re in control of our own destiny.”

Cypress gave freshman starting pitcher Tate Belfanti plenty of support from the start, scoring five runs in the first inning. Leadoff hitter Nick Montgomery started it out with a single.

Cypress had three hits and cashed in two walks and a hit batter. John Short and Spencer Kwon had RBI singles, Connor Artasere drove in a run walking with the bases loaded and Antonio Lujan was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to drive in another. Jackson Pohl drove in the fifth run with a sacrifice fly off Crean Lutheran starter Calvin Howard, who pitched into the fifth inning.

“It was nice to jump ahead away right away,” Weber said. “Obviously starting a freshman who has had some really good innings this year, actually the last time he came out, he struggled a little bit, he did an OK job but it does help whether you’re a freshman or senior when we jump on them early and get to a decent lead. I thought our guys did a good job, that guy (Howard) was pretty good, he had some good velo and a good breaking ball, but our guys did a really good job.”

Crean Lutheran looked like it might get back in the game in the bottom of the first inning. Evan Plotner reached on an error and drove in a run but Belfanti was able to work out of a bases loaded jam.

Cypress added two more runs in the third inning, one coming on a sacrifice fly by Montgomery to make it 7-1. Crean Lutheran scored a run in the bottom of the inning. Brady McKay singled, stole second and scored on a sacrifice fly by Davis Rutten.

Cypress added a run in the fourth inning, but Crean Lutheran countered with two runs in the bottom of the inning on a double by Cooper McIllroy.

Cypress added three more runs in the fifth inning, one on a sacrifice fly by Montgomery.

“It’s a good win, every league game matters,” said Montgomery, who has committed to Arizona State. “To come out here and put up some good runs, we’re pretty confident going into Friday, it’s a good step in the right direction.”

Montgomery and his teammates are looking for a successful finish to league play.

“We’re looking forward to it, it’s going to be competitive but that’s why you play the game for, so it’s going to be a good couple of weeks,” he said.

Garrett Rodriguez came in to pitch in the fourth inning for Cypress and Artasere finished up coming on the seventh.

Montgomery had a run scored and two RBI, Justin Tillar had two hits and scored two runs, Short had two hits, three RBI and scored a run, Noah Johnson had a triple and scored two runs, Artasere scored two runs and had two RBI, Kwon had an RBI single and scored a run and Jackson Pohl had an RBI single.

“They came out super aggressive which is not surprising, they hit some balls hard and found some holes, the strike zone was super small on both sides at the beginning of the game,” said Crean Lutheran Coach Jake Haney. “They did a really good job and took some swings at some strikes and kept that inning going.

“I know we battled back and a had a chance to get one more big hit and at least scare them, but it didn’t happen and they made pitches when it mattered. Injuries are just catching up to us, we have a lot of really good players out and the other guys have stepped up, I’m really proud of those guys for stepping up.”

The loss did not have much of an affect on Crean Lutheran’s hopes of securing third place in the Empire League. The Saints are battling Tustin for the third playoff berth with three games left.

“We have three games left, we have Tustin next week,” Haney said. “We’re still in the hunt, today obviously could have helped us, it doesn’t necessarily hurt us. We still want to win baseball games but everything we can to accomplish is still right in front of us so hopefully we can regroup tomorrow and get back to it on Friday.”

McKay had two hits for Crean Lutheran and scored two runs but came out of the game in the sixth inning with an injury.

—Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone; timburt@ocsportszone.com