By Pat Turner
Spring Break meant a heavy work schedule for District 28-6A baseball teams.
While many of their classmates were taking it easy or taking trips, the teams were taking the field for three district games. Despite little time for relaxation, O’Connor (15-3, 7-0) and Brennan (13-4, 7-0) found the workload rewarding after winning all three contests stay on top of 28-6A.
O’Connor topped Brandeis (4-1), Marshall (16-3) and Clark (7-2).
Brennan began its week with a 10-5 win over Clark and followed with a 10-4 victory over Marshall and a 4-2 win over Stevens.
Because of that perfect week, the Panthers and Bears battle for sole possession of first place Tuesday.
“We’ve been busy,” O’Connor coach David Collenback said. “We had three games and next week we have games with Brennan and Stevens. This is a brutal part of our season. The kids are handling it. We lost three pitchers to injuries and we’re short-handed. But we have kids stepping up and getting the job done.
The Panthers’ available pitchers made it work.
Brock Lynch entered in the second inning and held Brandeis to three hits and a run while striking out four.
Sammy Castillo and Jackson Blietz combined for a three-hitter against Brandeis. Castillo kept Marshall under control in the five-inning contest, allowing five hits in 4 2/3 innings before Blietz came on for the final out.
Another impressive outing came in the Clark contest when Jack Phipps entered a bases-loaded jam with one out in the second inning and ended the threat. The reliever continued to shine, allowing five hits and a run, while fanning seven batters the rest of the way.
O’Connor’s bats were noisy the entire week.
Mark Kwasna and Caleb Smith’s RBI singles gave O’Connor a 2-0 lead over Brandeis in the first inning.
Brandeis pulled within a run in the sixth on John Michael Ramirez’s single, but the Panthers countered with two more in the bottom half on an error and fielder’s choice.
Against Marshall, O’Connor pounded out nine hits and took advantage of three errors, starting with an 11-run explosion in the first inning.
Blietz drove in six of the runs with a two-run double and grand slam.
Javier Perez knocked in three runs.
“We’ve been struggling to get our sticks going early in the game,” Blietz said. “So, it was good to jump on them early. That gave our pitchers help. The ball felt good coming off the bat.”
O’Connor bats did more damage against Clark with six runs through the first three innings.
Kwasna (3 for 4), Castillo (2 for 4, 1 RBI), Christian Estrada (2 for 3), Blietz (1 for 3, 1 RBI), Walker Jordan (1 for 1, 1 RBI) and Cade Collenback (2 RBIs) led the offense.
Brennan showed its comeback ability by rallying for victories in all three games.
“They’re battling,” Brennan coach Ben Woodchick said. “It’s been that way all year. They’re giving themselves opportunities to win because of the way they’re competing.”
Esteban Gonzalez played a key role in the victories, batting .500 with six RBI, while also registering a pitching victory.
Gonzalez went 2 for 4 and drove in four runs while helping the Bears overcame an early 4-3 deficit to Marshall with a seven-run burst in the fifth,
Singles by Jimmy Valle, Jalen Thomas and Anthony Valle loaded the bases.
Adrian Cruz’s sacrifice fly brought home the tying run. Gonzalez then lined a two-run single to put the Bears in front. Ryland Rodriguez and Jared Linderman kept the rally going with RBI singles, before Thomas drove in the final two with a single.
The following day, the Bears were in a hole again after Clark struck for an early 3-1 lead triggered by Aiden Falkiewicz’s two-run single.
Clark began the second with back-to-back singles, but Gonzalez ended threat by striking out the side. From that point, the Brandeis starter found his groove, shutting down the Cougars the next five innings by scattering six hits and striking out 10.
Clark tacked on three more runs in the seventh but the relief work Isaiah Gonzalez and plenty of bat support earlier secured the victory.
“I took a deep breath,” Gonzalez said. “I slowed my momentum down. Once I got in that groove, I was able to go.
“We weren’t worried when we got behind. We’ve been in these situations before. We’re able to adapt to it. That’s really important to do. If a team throws a punch, we have to be able to throw a punch back.”
Esteban Gonzalez triggered a three-run third inning while following Cruz’s game-tying single with a two-run double.
The Bears delivered the crowning blow in the sixth while scoring six runs with two outs on two errors, a wild pitch and run-scoring single from Cruz.
Like the previous two games, Brennan had to show its comeback ability against Stevens.
The Falcons (12-5, 5-2), who began the week sharing first place, owned a 2-0 lead in the first after two bases-loaded walks.
Brennan pulled within a run in the sixth on a Stevens fielding error, before gaining the lead on its final at-bat with Xavier Martinez’s RBI single and Michael Cuevas’ two-run double.
“It was really important to win these games,” Gonzalez said. “We have some momentum. Being undefeated at this stretch means a lot to us.”
Stevens had a rough week, losing two contests.
The Falcons began on positive note by pulling out a 5-4 walk-off win over Clark. Stevens tied the score in the sixth on Matthew Flores’ sacrifice fly, before pulling out the victory on Fabian Bernal’s fly to left.
Stevens was the victim of a walk-off the following day as Jose Rodriguez came through with a two-run single in bottom of the seventh to cap a wild 11-10 victory.
Stevens, however, had its highlights as Gabriel Casanova and Joseph Lopez went 3 for 4 with three RBIs.
Taft (8-7-1, 4-3) and Brandeis (8-9, 4-3) had encouraging weeks as the two moved into a fourth-place tie.
Taft rolled to wins over Holmes (7-1), Warren (14-8) and Jay (12-2).
Chris Rodriguez and Hunter Hampton combined for a no-hitter against Holmes. Rodriguez went the first six innings, striking out four and walking five, while allowing a run.
Hampton finished the no-no with two strikeouts in the seventh,’
In the batting department, Devin Goins (2 for 4), Ryan Lopez (1 for 2) and Garrett Johnson (2 for 3) all knocked in two runs.
Taft had a tougher task against Warren as the Warriors hammered out an 8-3 lead.
However, the Raiders made their comeback in the bottom of the fifth, tying the score by with the help of two errors, Ryan Lopez’s single, a bases-loaded walk and Fernando Menjares’ two-run single.
Taft followed those heroics with six runs in the sixth on RBI singles from Daniel Rodriguez, Johnson and Lopez, along with a two-run double by MJ Bustillos.
Following the loss to O’Connor, Brandeis rebounded with a 14-4 blasting of Holmes and a 12-0 whipping of Warren.
The Broncos made the most of 11 walks against Holmes and received timely hits from Jalin Flores (2 for 4, 3 RBIs), A.J. Aguilar (2 for 3, 2 RBIs), Jesse Benavidez (2 for 2, 1 RBI) and Aric Vasquez (1 for 2, 2 RBIs).
Ty Fontenot led the way against Warren.
In addition to hurling a five hitter with six strikeouts in the five-inning game, he drove in four runs while going 2 for 4.