Bonita Drops the Hammer on San Gorgonio, All Nails After First-Inning Nailbiter

May 19, 2012
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Castro went 3 for 4 at the plate with three RBIs and sparkled in the field in support of pitcher Justin Garza.

Castro went 3 for 4 at the plate with three RBIs and sparkled in the field in support of pitcher Justin Garza.

In the first inning of Bonita’s opening round Div. 3 playoff game against San Gorgonio, it looked like a real nail-biter.

Bonita ace Justin Garza uncharacteristically walked the leadoff hitter and then threw away a comebacker to second to put runners on first and second with no outs. A modicum of concern rippled through the crowd.

“He’s probably the best fielding pitcher in the country and he threw the bunt away,” Knott said moments after the game. “He didn’t even have to hurry.”

Returning to form, Garza struck out No. 3 hitter Garrett Preszler, but the clean-up hitter Hazajel Qjuijada whistled a solid drive into the right center gap, and just like that Bonita, entering the game with a 26-2 record and the No. 1 seeded team in the division, was trailing 1-0.

In the bottom half of the inning, leadoff hitter Justin Row was robbed of a base hit when the charging left fielder, Brandon Charles, snagged his sinking liner off his shoe tops.

“Honestly, I thought this is going to be one of those games, a nail-biter, that they’re going to make the plays behind him and we’re just going to have to keep putting pressure, putting pressure, putting pressure on them,” Bonita coach John Knott said.

After Garza singled up the middle and Thomas Castro walked, Anthony Gonzalez got Bonita even with a two-out double to drive in Garza.

In the second inning, Bonita was at its absolute best, showing why it’s favored to earn at least a ticket to the big dance on June 1 at Dodger Stadium.

When Garza retook the mound in the second, it was all but over for San Gorgonio. The Spartans sent three batters to the plate and nine pitches later — nine strikes later to be exact — they were all sitting down.

Knott wrote off Garza’s hiccup in the first inning to just being overly amped, given the big turnout in the stands and the cheerleading in the dugout, and the one-and-done playoffs format, and the fact Garza is a senior. One mistake and you’re on the other side of the fence looking in.

“You catch yourself overthrowing,” Knott said.

Meanwhile, in the bottom of the second, Bonita sent 11 batters to plate and scored eight runs, getting singles from Nolan Henley, Woody Reyes, Castro and Gonzalez and a ground-rule double by Row. Garza and Jake Blunt also walked in the inning.

“I was really proud of our kids,” Knott said. “One through nine, their approach, we had a lot of good at-bats. It wasn’t just one or two guys. It was across the board.”

Indeed, many players sparkled for Bonita. Besides Garza pumping in 92 mph fast fastballs and snapping off curves like Sandy Koufax, Castro, hitting out of the three-hole, walked and had three straight singles in first four at bats. But his defense was even sharper, handling third base like Brooks Robinson or Craig Nettles.

“We know he’s really athletic,” Knott said. “He’s the only kid I’ve ever coached that can play seven positions on the field at the varsity level. He can even pitch if you ask him to. We like having him at third. He’s a sponge. He’s got good hands and instincts.”

Knott kept the pedal down all afternoon. Bonita led 8-1 after two, 11-1 after three innings, and 15-1 after five before finishing the contest, 18-1. Knott lifted Garza, who surrendered just the one hit and run in the first, after fiving innings of work, and gave his other two top pitchers, Sam Stavang and Parker Merritt, each an inning of work to let them get a taste of CIF action and the battles they’re likely to face in coming weeks. Both pitchers were outstanding in their short relief stints.

Bonita’s entire pitching staff continues to show unbelievable composure and command, not only this season, but as long as Knott and his pitching coach Mitch Newell have been sidekicks.

“It’s a two-way street,” Knott said about Newell’s relationship with his pitchers. “Our pitchers are locked into him as the pitching coach and they communicate with him, not just during the game, but before the game and after the game on how they feel and what pitches felt good, and he’s very passionate about getting them better, about them knowing the game and playing under control, not just being a guy who can execute pitches, but a pitcher that can field his position and do all the little things to be a winner.”

Bonita has the look of eagles right now, showing great pitching, offense, defense and a unique ability to finish what they start. Knott’s best team ever? Capable of winning it all, after so many heartbreaks?

“I’ll let you know at the end of the year,” Knott said. “They’re fun to be around.”

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