By David O’CONNOR
In a thrilling contest that was decided by a fielding error in extra innings, the Crescenta Valley Falcons outlasted the Granada Hills Highlanders 1-0 in the second round of the Babe Herman tournament at Stengel Field in Glendale on Monday.
Coming off a dominating 13-2 win over the Highland Bulldogs in the opening round on Saturday, the Falcons were looking to move closer to contesting Wednesday’s championship game by handing the Highlanders their second straight loss.
Starting Falcons’ pitcher and junior Eric Ma went head-to-head with lefty Chris Murphy and they produced an intriguing pitching duel that gave batters limited opportunity to get on base.
Falcons’ shortstop Ryan Lynch was the first batter to record a hit with a line drive in the bottom of the first and he remained in the thick of the action when he leapt to his left with an eye-catching diving outstretched catch in the top of the third and another hit in the same inning.
Ma remained composed on the mound as he orchestrated the home team’s defense with suffocating heat, as he only gave up one hit in six innings compared to six hits conceded by Murphy in seven innings.
Ma was grateful to the Falcons defense for giving him peace of mind and attributed his success to the methodical preparation by his coaches and his connection with catcher Kewin Ledesma.
“It was great, the defense was there for me the whole night and it felt easy,” Ma said. “I think just preparation every day, coaches here work us hard.”
Ma remained in control until the top of the sixth when he sprayed a few wayward pitches that produced a walk and forced Falcons coach Phil Torres to take the conservative approach by pulling his valuable pitcher and bringing in relief pitcher and sophomore Scott Vinceri.
CV had a golden opportunity to transfer their hitting productivity into cherished runs in the bottom of the sixth after Brandon Alsamann resorted to a bunt, which registered his second hit but, more importantly, allowed him to join third baseman Weston Walker and outfielder Jamie Blank on-base.
Alsamann praised Ma for his outstanding pitching performance and acknowledged how his team came together despite missing out on scoring chances in the sixth and seventh innings.
“I just think our pitcher Eric did a really good job, throwing a lot of strikes, made some game and kept us in it,” Alsamann said. “We all kind of like just teamed up, kept talking and got the dugout going and a lot of us manned up and did a good job, good ball play.”
Chase Walker couldn’t have been holding the bat in more favorable circumstances with the Falcons having no outs and only needing a single or a sacrifice fly to bring replacement runner Dakota Cummins home.
Murphy absorbed the pressure-cooker situation with ease by striking out pinch-hitter Brett Klein, Lynch and Walker in quick succession. To add to the drama, Murphy had three balls in the bank and several earlier wayward pitches that brought about a mid-mound discussion between the Highlanders coach and several players, but they chose to back their talented leading hurler and he didn’t disappoint.
Granada Hills blocked the Falcons again from scoring in the bottom of the seventh after Crescenta Valley’s captain Ledesma drove a line drive inside third base and to deep left field, falling just short of the fence for a double. As Murphy let one rip, Jimmy Smiley tried to steal second and Cummins saw this as the precious opportunity to round home, but he was thrown out.
It was a case of third time luck for CV following Vinceri sitting down the Highlanders in a blink of an eye in the extra inning. Granada Hills relieved Murphy with another leftie, but he nervously walked Alsamann, who then stole second when given the opening.
An expensive error by a Highlanders infielder resulted in Alsamann beating the ball home and clinching the Falcon’s third consecutive win seconds before his teammates mobbed him in a congratulatory huddle.
CV opened their season by defeating hosts Cabrillo 13-1 on Feb. 28 and winning on the road over Victor Valley 5-2 on March 4. The Falcons lost a heartbreaking tussle with Bonita 5-6 in extra innings a few days later and atoned for the defeat by comprehensively beating Los Osos 12-3 on March 11.
The Falcons squared off against El Camino Real in Woodland Hills on Tuesday at 6 p.m. for a spot in the tournament decider.