Paramount Doesn’t Have Pitcher’s Back; Bonita Steals Game, 2-1 … Knott Says ‘Most Intense Game I’ve Been a Part Of’

May 26, 2012
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video-24-0-00-00-27Friday’s quarterfinals playoff featuring Bonita and Paramount had it all – clutch pitching, hitting and defense, and something rarer than a triple play or a perfect game: a right fielder, Joe Willard, throwing out not one, not two, but three hitters out at first base.

“I’ve never seen that,” said victorious coach John Knott, who deserves an assist in the 2-1 victory over Paramount, along with his coaches Dave Cates and Mitch Newell, for seemingly always having his players in the right position when the game was on the line.

To start the game, Paramount’s Jesus Caporal laced a solid hit to right field, but Bonita’s designated weapon and right fielder charged the ball hard like an infielder and threw a perfect strike to Anthony Gonzalez at first to nip Caporal by a quarter step.

Justin Garza did the rest, getting the next two players to fly out and ground out.

In the bottom of the first, Paramount pitcher Alex Navarrete proved just as tough, surrendering only a walk to Thomas Castro.

In the top of the second, it was that man Willard again. With one out, Paramount’s Frankie Valenzuela shot a fly ball down the right ball field, which clearly looked like a base hit.

“I just kind of reacted to it,” the sophomore Willard said. “I saw that it was a low line drive and came running in and luckily enough it ended up in my glove.”

The play also pumped up Garza who struck out the next hitter to end the inning.

In the bottom half of the second, Nolan Henley doubled down the left field line to lead off. Connor Renard singled to put runners on the corners with no outs. Navarrette stiffened, however, getting Jake Blunt to hit into a 6-4-3 double play as Henley crossed the plate for the game’s first run.

Would it be enough?

Garza set down Paramount in order in the third. In the fourth, he gave up a two-out single to Fernando Rios, Paramount’s first official hit of the game. With Rios at second, Garza snapped off a great curve to strike out clean up hitter Joseph Torres to preserve the 1-0 Bonita lead.

In the bottom of the fourth, Bonita got another hit from Henley, a sharp single, but that was it for the offense.

In the fifth, Garza set down Paramount in order again. Bonita couldn’t muster much offense, either. Jake Blunt led off with a walk, but the Bearcats didn’t take advantage of the free pass.

Suddenly, Paramount was down to six outs. Perhaps, the reality of the one-and-done situation finally sank in. No. 8 hitter Hilario Acedo stroked a solid shot to right, but there was that man, Willard again, no “average Joe, charging and throwing out the runner at first for the first out.

Garza walked the No. 9 hitter in the lineup, Aaron Pleitz, then surrendered a 3-2 hit-and-run single to leadoff hitter Caporal. With runners on the corners and one out, Paramount sent Erick Cruz to the plate. Bonita had its middle infielders back in double play depth, conceding the run if there was a slow roller.

Then, with Garza already in his windup, shortstop Justin Row and second baseman Woody Reyes came pinching in. Sure enough, Cruz tapped to short, and Row threw a strike to Blunt to tag out a sliding Pleitz at the plate.

“We were going to play infield back,” Knott said. “I asked coach (Mitch Newell) what he liked. When he said he liked the breaking ball at that point, I cut it (moved the infielders in). I didn’t think that they were going to be able to put much on it because I figured it was going to be a ground ball right there.”

Paramount, ending an afternoon of frustration, battling both Garza, and Willard in right field, finally got on the board to even the score when Rios lined a clutch two-out single to score Cruz. Garza then struck out Torres a second time, snapping off another great curve ball, punching his fist in the air, a rare expression of emotion from the senior veteran.

“I couldn’t let the situation snowball,” Garza said. “I was thinking in my head I can’t let that one run get to me. I had to keep it a tie.”

In the bottom of the sixth, the questions were how much juice did Garza have left in the tank (he had thrown three gutty innings early in the week to save the 5-3 victory over Garden Grove), and could Bonita get anything going offensively.

Row grounded out to third to start the inning. Garza grounded to second, but the ball rolled up the second baseman’s arm for an error.

Mindful of the situation, Navarrete kept throwing over to first to keep Garza from swiping second and getting into scoring position. Three times, Navarrette threw to first and three times the first baseman lobbed the ball back to the pitcher.

On the fourth pickoff attemp, Garza alertly broke for second and didn’t even draw a throw, catching the Paramount infielders napping.

“I looked at the middle infielders,” Garza said. “They had their backs to the pitcher. The first three times they did that I was just making sure I had something going on in my head. I was making sure they had their heads turned, and you know I just took off and thank God it worked out. “

“That was totally on him, on his own,” Knott said. “He saw that nobody was there, and he beat the guy to second base. It was one of the most heads-up plays I’ve ever seen on the baseball field.”

Despite first base being open, Paramount elected to face Thomas Castro, choosing the lefty-on-lefty match up. It was the wrong decision. Castro whistled a single to center, with Garza racing around third and spiking home plate to give Bonita a 2-1 lead.

If the Bonita faithful was tense outside the fence, that pressure never showed up in the batter’s box. “I just felt real confident out there,” Castro said. “I was just looking for my pitch, not swinging out of the zone. No sir, no pressure. It was a fastball low and away. I was protecting with two strikes.”

With Castro’s late inning heroics, Bonita was now three outs away from victory, but Paramount was hardly conceding the game.

Valenzuela promptly singled to start the inning. Next up, Steven Espinosa banged a ball through the infield into right field, but unfortunately, that’s where Willard was also hanging out. Willard gunned the runner at first for his third outfield assist.

“It’s something we work on and look to do a lot with Garza on the mound throwing so hard,” said an unfazed Willard after the game. “A lot of balls are hit to me.”

On the put-out at first, Valenzuela moved up to second, representing the tying run. Randy Buenrostro then singled to leftfielder Tanner Diebold who played the ball cleanly and fired the ball to cut-off man Castro, who whirled and threw home to nail Valenzuela.

Garza had the best view of the play and described what he saw, shaking his head in amazement over his team’s stellar defense:

“For one, Tanner had to get the play; two, Thomas had to dig it up; and three, we had to get the guy at home.”

Garza struck out the final batter, and the celebration was on after battling such a tough and worthy opponent.

“I have to give Paramount a heckuva lot of credit,” Knott said. “They made it tough on us all the way to the end. People on paper might have thought this was a lay-up game. because they were a third place team, but they sure didn’t play like a third place team. They came ready to play. They had some real good at bats. We were real fortunate today. It was just an amazing game.

“I’ve never been in a back-and-forth intense battle like this period, especially in the seventh inning. This is the most intense game I’ve been a part of.”

Knott also credited his coaches, Dave Cates, for always having the players in the right position, and Mitch Newell for “calling a great game again.”

He was almost speechless in describing Garza’s efforts. By the time he had circled back to Willard’s play, he had pretty much emptied the tank as had everyone else on the team.

“Willard changed the game,” Knott said. “He made three great plays. He executed all of them, and they were all in big situations. None of them were when it didn’t matter.”

Garza, who gave Bonita everything he had, pitching nine innings for the week, one short of the CIF’s weekly limit, certainly appreciated his teammate Willard’s play.

“He threw three guys out from right field,” Garza said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that before.”

Now the scene shifts to Garr High School for the semifinals, after Garr knocked off Quartz Hill 12-2 on Friday.

Should Bonita win, it will play at Dodger Stadium on Friday June 1.

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