Bonita to Play at Dodger Stadium This Friday After Defeating Gahr, 3-0, in ‘Game of Inches’

May 30, 2012
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parker1Move over Dwight Clark, made famous for “The Catch” he hauled in from Joe Montana in the 1981 playoffs (Jan. 10, 1982) at the back of the end zone against the Dallas Cowboys.

That nickname, after 30 years, now goes to Nolan “The Catch” Henley for robbing Gahr’s Kevin Franklin of what looked like a sure two-run, two-out triple when he sprinted to deep right center field to spear the missile out of the sky to end the bottom of third inning and keep the score tied 0-0 in the tension-racked semi finals game between the Bearcats and the Gladiators on Gahr’s home turf.

Watching the play unfold was Bonita starting pitcher Parker Merritt (8-1) who served up the pitch that Franklin tattooed with runners on first and second.

“I was just so happy. I was cheering. It was good for him. I love him,” Merritt said. “That was probably the biggest play of the year. I have to thank my defense. They kept me in the game.”

Bonita Coach John Knott witnessed “The Catch” from his first base dugout position.

“That’s incredible,” Knott said. “That’s going to clear the bases right there. Two were going to score, and they’re still hitting. Game of inches right there!”

Then, in the top of the fourth, with the scored still knotted at 0-0, Henley led off with a solid single, as if his role and heroics had been scripted by some Hollywood screen writer. (You can’t make this sh– up!)

After Henley swiped second base, Anthony Gonzalez moved him over to third by fisting a weak ground ball to the right side. You could fill the Bonita magic building.

Then catcher Jake Blunt singled sharply up the middle to put Bonita on the board with a 1-0 lead.

Next up, Joe Willard ran into his own bunt for an out. Woody Reyes, however, batting in the No. 9 hole, whistled a line drive to left field to keep the rally alive, putting runners on first and second with two out and bringing up Justin Row, who had grounded out and singled in his two previous plate appearances.

Row battled Gahr pitcher Andrew Encinas to a 3-2 count, foiling a couple of touch pitches, before driving an Encinas fastball to the base of the left field fence. Left fielder Adonis Morrison raced back, but the ball glanced off his glove. By the time he picked it up, Row was standing at third with a triple, with Bonita holding a 3-0 lead.

The difference in the game up to that point, had Bonita made the catch with the game on the line, and Gahr didn’t … a game of inches.

In the sixth, Encinas was tough as nails, striking out all three Bonita batters he faced, trying to give his team a chance to rally. Merritt was just as tough in the bottom of the fifth, retiring Gahr in order. Through five innings, Merritt had surrendered only two hits, a remarkable performance given the gravity of the game. If he rises to the occasion, Bonita punches its ticket to Dodger Stadium; if he doesn’t, the players can line up for the powder puff derby or whatever they do in high school on a Friday night.

“I knew I could do the job,” Merritt said, although admitting he didn’t get much sleep the night before. “Nah, I couldn’t sleep at all, I was so excited.”

Before the game started, Knott told him, “Keep our team in the game and throw strikes.”

And Merritt did. “All my pitches were working,” the junior said.

In the top of the sixth, Bonita could only manage a bloop single by Blunt behind the third base bag, before Encinas shut things down.

In the bottom half of the inning, Merritt faced the teeth of the Gladiators’ line-up. Thomas Castro made a terrific play on a bunt up the third base line to nip Edgar Morales by a foot for the first out. Jaime Estrada, the No. 3 hitter, however, got aboard when Row kicked his grounder at second. Clean-up hitter Franklin followed with a solid single to left-center, placing runners on first and third with just one out. Merritt responded by inducing a tailor-made, inning-ending double play from shortstop Justin Garza, to Row, to Gonzalez, 6-4-3, if you’re keeping score.

In the top of the seventh, Bonita loaded the bases on a walk, error and hit batter, but Henley struck out with the bases loaded to end the inning. The scene had been set for Henley, the game’s hero, once more, but the screenwriters wanted to added one more twist to heighten the drama. This would not be a Bonita runaway.

In the bottom of the seventh, Gahr’s Adonis Morrison and Alonso Casillas each singled to put runners on first and second with no outs. Knott raced out of the dugout, gave Merritt a pat on the back and handled the ball to Garza, who had been warming up the previous inning, just in case Merritt ran out of gas.

The switch to Garza wasn’t a sure thing. Garza had pitched nine innings the previous week, including seven innings just on Friday. There was talk that Garza was fatigued, and the plan was to keep Garza off the hill, which is why Merritt started the seventh.

So much for rumors! Garza’s tank was never fuller, his fastball never faster, his curve never sharper. It was almost poetic justice, that Garza would be handed the ball one more time in such a clinching and defining moment to put his stamp on the season and personally punch Bonita’s ticket to Dodger Stadium.

With Garza dealing, Gahr didn’t stand a chance. Game over. Bonita won 3-0 mowed down the Gladiators faster than a 15-pound bowling ball knocking over a bunch of helpless pins.

“I was expecting to get the ball,” Garza said. “I was ready to go. You definitely want the ball in that situation.”

As for Merritt taking Bonita all the way into the seventh, Knott was impressed.

“I told him we had a ton of confidence in him,” Knott said. “He’s kind of calm and cool. He’s got some common characteristics to Garza, maybe not the 95 mph fastball, but I thought Parker did a great job of keeping us in the game.”

In the end, Bonita prevailed once more in a game of inches.

“The ball dropped for us and it didn’t for them,” Knott said.

Now look for Bonita, Garza and company to play on their biggest stage yet, set to square off against Alhambra this Friday at 1:30 p.m. at Dodger Stadium.

Anyone who has ever worn a Bonita jersey or supported Bonita sports should turn out and watch their Bearcats in what should be a great multi-class renunion. Call in sick, do what you have to do, but be there!

“This is what we’ve been waiting for all year,” Garza said, “and we’re going to take it to them.”

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