By Pat Turner
Ben Woodchick’s head coaching debut is looking bright.
During his first year at Brennan, the former Smithson Valley-New Mexico baseball player, has guided the Bears to a 10-4 season record and a 4-0 start in District 28-6A, which puts them in a three-way tie with O’Connor (12-3) and Stevens (10-3).
Things are running smoothly at this point. The Bears are pulling out wins in the clutch with their hitting and pitching. In addition, they’re showing aggressiveness on the basepaths.
Whatever the case, Woodchick is enjoying the beginning.
“It’s going awesome,” Woodchick said. “It’s been a lot of fun. These kids get after it. We’re trying to make them extremely aggressive. They’re really buying into what we’re doing.”
In the Taft contest, Brennan was limited to three hits, but made the most of its opportunities.
The first came during a two-run third that began with infield hits from Xavier Martinez and Jalen Thomas.
Thomas’ single brought in pinch-runner Trey Bowles, who got into scoring position by stealing second and third. Thomas then crossed the plate by swiping home on a double steal.
Taft cut the deficit in half in the fourth, but Brandeis regained its two-run cushion in the bottom of the frame when Valle was hit by a pitch and succeeded on another double steal at the plate.
Valle provided the Bears more comfort in the fifth by triggering a three-run rally with a two-run double before scoring on a wild pitch.
Brennan showed its comeback ability their next time on the diamond.
Brandeis (6-8, 2-2), which knocked Clark out of its share of the 28-6A lead with a 4-1 win earlier in the week, took a 2-0 lead in the first with James Cardenas’ RBI double.
Brennan tied the score in the third on an error and Thomas’ single.
A fielding blunder enabled Brandeis to regain the advantage in the bottom of the third, but two passed balls, an error and Thomas stealing home enabled the Broncos to take charge with a three-run fifth.
“We’re finding ways to win,” Woodchick said. “Our pitchers are giving us a chance. They’re throwing a lot of strikes. We’ve been able to apply pressure in other areas. We’re manufacturing runs.”
Stevens coach Preston Rogers is feeling good about his Falcons.
Despite a younger look a year ago, Stevens got on a roll in the second half of district play and was in the post-season hunt but missed out after losing the tie-breaker to Brennan for the fourth spot.
The disappointment of coming up short has provided added incentive this season.
“This has been a three-year process,” Rogers said. “We thought we had a talented group when they were freshmen. Five of them played up as sophomores. We improved last year, but they got stopped short. It devastated them that we didn’t make the playoffs.
“We had a great offseason. They have worked hard. These guys have a goal in mind and they’re making it happen. It feels good to be good again.”
Stevens showed that determination this week with a 6-5 win over Marshall, followed by a 9-3 win over Taft.
The Falcons were in a 5-1 hole but started making their comeback with three runs in the fifth on Sabastian Barrera’s run-scoring single, a bases-loaded walk and Louis Bonillas’ sacrifice fly.
Stevens was also locked in a 3-2 battle with Taft before Will Marin broke open the contest with a three-run double.
Stevens gets an added boost this week with the return of No. 1 pitcher Jacob Arriola, who has been out with an injury.
“This group is finding ways to win,” Rogers said. “They’re doing whatever it takes. We’re working to play to our strengths. Our pitching is doing well. We’re looking forward to having Jacob back. He’s going to make us stronger.”
O’Connor held onto its share by pulling out a 2-1 win over Jay with Cade Collenback walk-off bases on balls in the bottom of the seventh inning and Mauro Bustamante’s two-hitter.
O’Connor followed with a 9-4 hammering of Taft, but that contest also had tense moments.
O’Connor appeared to have things under control after building a 5-1 lead. Taft pulled within a run after scoring three times in the fifth.
O’Connor recovered from the lapse with four in the seventh on Collenback’s two-run homer and RBI doubles from Jackson Blietz and Mark Kwasna.