There’s A New King That Rules the Valley, Bonita Pierces Lancers, 2-1

April 26, 2011
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Brandon Miller is interviewed by Reggie Miller.

Brandon Murfett is interviewed by Reggie Miller.

Bishop Amat was the reigning king of baseball, winner of 21 games in a row and winner of last week’s National Classic featuring many of the best teams in the nation. But on Monday night at Mount San Antonio College in front of a packed house, with grandmothers and grandfather sitting in the aisles, Bonita beheaded the monarch, 2-1, behind the brilliant pitching of Brandon Murfett and several stellar defensive plays.

Inning after inning it was Murfett lancing the Lancers. Winning the “showcase” game, Murfett put to rest any talk that Bonita has a No. 1, a No. 2 or No. 3 starter. It’s the “Big Three” now with the undefeated Garza (0.40), Arizona State-bound Adam McCreery, and Murfett, the Arcadia Invitational MVP and the slayer of baseball royalty, holding equal titles to the throne.

Maybe Murfett was at his best in the bottom of the seventh, with the Bearcats clinging to a 2-1 lead, looking down the barrel of a team that had won 21 straight and staking a legitimate claim as the nation’s best baseball team. Murfett went right after the hitters, striking out Jay Anderson and inducing Dominique Davis to fly to center for the first two outs. Then after walking Wallace Gonzalez, he picked him off, throwing a dart to first baseman Thomas Castro to end the game.”

“It was great to see our pitcher in the last inning,” Knott said. “It would have been very easy for him to put all this pressure on himself, and nibble and walk a guy here and walk a guy there and give them a chance to win. He didn’t do it.”

What he did do was limit the high-powered Bishop Amat offense, which came into the game hitting over .400 as a team, to six hits and one run. That lone run came in the bottom of the second on a two-out single by Gonzalez and a triple by Andrew Gutierrez.

Meanwhile, Bonita struggled to score in the first three innings against Jordan McCranney. Their best opportunity came in the third when they loaded the bases with just one out, but McCranney got KC Huth to pop up for an infield fly and Garza to ground out to end the threat.

Coach John Knott gathers his team moments after Bonita' 2-1 victory over Bishop Amat.

Coach John Knott gathers his team moments after Bonita' 2-1 victory over Bishop Amat.

In the fourth, Bonita finally broke through against new pitcher Ryan Serrato. With one out, shortstop Justin Row laced a triple down the right field line. After Matt Rodriguez flied to short left for the second out, No. 9 hitter Nolan Henley hit a one-hop shot that handcuffed shortstop Davis  to drive in Row.

In the bottom of the fifth, Bishop Amat was poised to break the 1-1 tie after a one-out triple by lead-off hitter Adam Alcantara. No. 2 hitter Brandon Castaneda followed with a liner to right that Huth caught and returned on a frozen rope to catcher Mark Lindsay. Retreating back to third base, Alcantara was caught in a rundown and eventually tagged out.

Seizing the momentum, Bonita claimed the lead in the top of sixth. Again it was Row who got things started with an infield single. Rodriguez followed with a single to left. Then Henley got on board via an error by third baseman Rio Ruiz to load the bases. Back to the top of the lineup, Castro hit a dribbler toward first. When first baseman Adam Alcantara rushed in to field it, he slipped, and all runners moved up 90 feet. Bonita led 2-1, and was looking for more with still just one out. However, with Matt Gelalich at the plate, who had been a perfect three-for-three to that point, Rodriguez bolted for home when he saw the ball squirt away from catcher Bernardo Zavala. Rodriguez was tagged out and Gelalich ended up grounding out on a bang-bang play to first to end the threat.

Things got more interesting in the bottom of the sixth. After a lead-off single by Ruiz who raced to second when Henley overshot the ball in left, it appeared the Lancers were ready to at least tie the score and perhaps put together a big inning for their 22nd straight victory. They had followed this same formula many times before. With pinch runner Trevor Goetz taking over at second, Zavala flied to right. On the catch Goetz raced to third, but after Bonita appealed that Goetz had left too soon, the field umpired called Goetz out. Perhaps, Huth’s rifle throw from the previous inning had caused the hasty departure.

In the top of the seventh, Robert Mier singled but was caught attempting to steal second, and in the bottom of the seventh, it was Murfett’s time to stamp his initials on the hard-fought victory and secure his place as an equal member of Bonita’ trio of standout pitchers.

“Our kids have had a lot confidence playing in this environment,” Knott said. “We had a lot of returning players coming back from last year’s CIF Finals. We played here against Damien earlier, so we felt confident that we could come out and we were not going to be intimidated.”

In the first inning, Bishop Amat had rocked the ball, sending warning track shots to Gelalich in center and Henley in left before they hauled in the long outs. Then in the middle frames, it was the long arm of Huth that restored order for the Bearcats.

“That’s one of the best defensive high school games I’ve seen,” Knott said, complimenting his team’s errorless defensive effort.

After the game, Knott, and his coaches Dave Cates and Mitch Newell, huddled the team in right field to talk to his team as the media closed in with tape recorders and Flip cameras. “You guys stayed with it, you stayed together, and we found a way to win, and I’m proud of you guys,” Knott said, setting off a roar from the team.

“What makes a champion is that one play doesn’t dictate everything. It could have been very easy for things to compound – a double there, a walk there.”

With the victory still just seconds old, Knott was already being asked to put the game in some sort of historical perspective. “We faced a great opponent with a rich tradition, probably the richest in San Gabriel Valley,” he said, “so there’s no denying that this game was huge.”

But the biggest performance was turned in by Murfett, called Smurf by some of his teammates. Although he’s proven time and again that he deserves mention any time the conversation turns to the Valley’s best pitcher, he still takes an awe-shucks attitude better suited to a Bob Feller who grew up in the Iowa cornfields. He continues to deflect praise to his teammates and his coaches.

“I just pitch, I don’t care about numbers, I don’t care about nothing,” he said. “When I get my opportunity, I do it. I was just trying to pump in strikes. It was an all-around team victory. We showed up. That’s all there it is too it.”

The new kings have arrived!

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