The Moors outlasted the Oilers, 6-2, in 10 innings at Montebello to win their sixth consecutive Almont League title.
It's no wonder that the first thing Alhambra High School Coach Steve Gewecke does when the Almont League schedule is released each year is to check to see when the Moors will play Montebello.
Alhambra’s games with Montebello are usually the toughest games of the year and decide the league championship. Tuesday was no exception.
Photo: Alhambra High's Gary Acuna, left, and Frankie Wright leave the field after squashing a Montebello rally in the ninth.
“I don’t know how many more of these I can take,” said Gewecke after watching his team run its record to 21-4 overall and 13-1 in league.The scenario was much like 2009 when Alhambra edged the Oilers at Montebello in the season’s final game to capture the crown.
Montebello needed a win Tuesday to force a showdown in Friday’s season finale at Moor Field. It looked like that would be the case when Montebello put runners at first and third with no outs in the ninth inning. But the Oilers failed to score and Alhambra showed some of its resiliency by scoring four runs in the 10th to win it.
Vai Peko, who went 3-for-5 with three runs scored, led off with a single and moved all the way to third on a sacrifice bunt by Greg Saldate. Isaiah Marin walked and with one out, Frankie Wright singled to score the go-ahead run.
Designated hitter Alex Castillo doubled to score two runs and an RBI single by Rafael Barrios drove in the fourth run.
“This team is very resilient and they showed it again today,” Gewecke said. “Our seniors just won’t let us lose."
Gewecke said he had a hunch that Castillo would play a key role and chose to inset him in the lineup over a freshman.
“We went with the senior and he came through,” Gewecke said. “He has certainly hustled while he’s waited to play and has not sulked. It’s a long season and you have to be ready for your opportunities.”
Gewecke didn’t hesitate to go with another senior in the bottom of the 10th. He brought in Jonathan Beltran to close out the game after sophomore Gary Acuna walked the leadoff hitter. Beltran retired the three batters he faced to end the game and touch-off a celebration by the Moors.
Acuna worked out of a tough spot in the ninth when it appeared Montebello would win the game. The Oilers had runners at first and third with no outs thanks to a hit batter, an error on a pickoff throw and a bunt single.
Acuna got a shallow fly ball to left that was not deep enough for the runner at third to try for home for the first out. Montebello attempted a squeeze play, but Silvestre Sanchez’ bunt was caught in the air in foul territory by Alhambra’s Frankie Wright, who ran back to third base to complete an inning-ending double play.
With score tied, 1-1, after seven innings, each team scored a run in the eighth.
A single by Juan Crespo to drive in Peko, who doubled, gave the Moors a 2-1 lead. A two-out rally by Montebello tied the score, 2-2. With two outs, Alex Guerrero and Michael Maldonado drew back-to-back walks. Michael Aguilar lined a single to left to score Guerrero.
Both teams received outstanding work from their starting pitchers.
Alhambra’s Saldate limited the Oilers to two runs and six hits in 7 2/3 innings on 108 pitches. He struck out eight and walked two.
“He’s a gutsy pitcher who wants to be the No. 1 guy,” Gewecke said. “That mindset and having heart is as important as having great stuff.”
Acuna won the game in relief with Beltran recording a save.
Montebello starter Anthony Millan was as equally impressive. He went nine innings, allowed two runs on seven hits, struck out 10 and walked one.
Story and Photos by Mario Villegas