By Jacob Wilson/Garden Grove Journal
For many, Garden Grove League baseball is La Quinta and everybody else.
Garden Grove and Rancho Alamitos have beaten everybody else. The teams have finished in the league’s top three the last two years. Now they want to beat La Quinta.
“Our motto is one pitch and one day at a time,” Garden Grove head coach Ricardo Cepeda said. “Hopefully that’ll give us a chance to unseat La Quinta and win a title.”
If the Argonauts can knock off La Quinta, (they collide on Tuesday) it would mean a triple crown of sorts for Garden Grove High School. The Argo football team famously won league, going 10-0 in the regular season and advancing to the CIF Finals. The boys basketball team followed with a league title of its own.
For Rancho, a league title in baseball could turn a year of almost but not quite in to a year of victory. Mike Frank helped put Rancho football back on the map with a record-breaking season and a solid third-place finish. The boys basketball team handed the Argonauts their only league loss and finished in a tie for second place.
But before either team can even thinking about beating La Quinta, they have to beat everybody else first. And that started with each other. Last week the rivals opened league play with their first of three league meetings.
The Argonauts struck first, coming from behind to beat the Vaqueros 5-4 thanks to a three-run fifth inning. It’s the fourth straight win for the Argonauts.
“We came back and battled,” Cepeda said. “We’re starting to hit our stride.”
After a scoreless first inning the Vaqueros got on the board in the second thanks to a one-run single with two outs by pitcher Justin Zielinski that scored first baseman Jordan Damasco from third. One inning later left fielder Cheyne Harris plated catcher Brandon Moss with another two-out single.
Trailing 2-0 after three innings the Argonauts got back-to-back doubles from Jacob Smith and Matt Lawson to cut the Vaquero lead in half.
Later in the inning Lawson moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on first baseman Nate Anderson’s sacrifice fly to tie the game 2-2.
The Vaqueros regained the lead on Zielinski’s second hit, and second RBI, of the day. With one out Zielinski knocked in catcher Andrew Camacho from third and the Vaqueros led 3-2.
But Zielinski, who had struck out four batters through four innings, appeared to lose some of that control in the fifth. Zielinski hit the number nine hitter Kyle Van Arsdale to start the inning.
Argonaut leadoff hitter Camden Huger followed with a single and that was it for Zielinski, at least on the mound.
Robert Bowers came in from right field to take over for Zielinski but didn’t fare much better. Jordan Geiger drew a walk to load the bases. Cory Noss followed with a single and Van Arsdale scored the tying run.
Two batters later Lawson added another single, all the runners advanced one base and the Argonauts led by one run. Joey Murray added yet another single and the Argonauts added an important insurance run. After five innings Garden Grove lead 5-3 over the Vaqueros.
The Vaqueros got one run back in the bottom of the sixth. Eddie Sanchez drew a one-out walk. Zielinski, who had moved out to right field, followed with a double, moving Sanchez to third.
During the next at bat the runners advanced on a wild pitch with Sanchez scoring on the play. But the Vaqueros couldn’t get Zielinski home from third and entered the final inning trailing 5-4.
Though Duran looked strong enough to continue, the Argonauts gave the ball to Gieger, the team’s closer, for the seventh inning.
Bowers led off the inning with a walk for the Vaqueros. The next batter Moss followed with a hard grounder up the middle. Argonaut shortstop Josh Sepulveda made a great play near second base to stop the ball.
He popped up and threw hard to first base in time to beat Moss but it appeared that Anderson dropped the ball and Moss stayed on the bag thinking he was safe. But the infield umpire signaled out.
Moss protested the call along with Rancho’s first base coach. Vaquero head coach Greg Pines came out to argue the call and after an appeal to the home plate umpire the call was upheld. Bowers was safe at second.
Harris followed with an infield single of his own but Bowers was thrown out trying to advance to third. Damasco ended the game with a routine grounder to third.
Though not his best game, Duran pitched well enough to get his first win of the year, scattering four runs over six innings. Duran never allowed more than one run in any inning. The senior struck out three and walked one.
“He’s going to be our big-game pitcher this year,” Cepeda said. “He gets stronger as the game goes on.”
Bowers took the loss in relief, falling to 1-1 on the year, but actually turned in a strong performance on the mound. The senior struck out three batters in three innings and allowed just one hit over the last two innings.
Zielinski gave up three runs and five hits in four innings on the mound. At the plate he was a perfect three for three and drove in two runs. Lawson had two hits and drove in two runs to lead the Argonauts.
The Vaqueros are at Los Amigos tomorrow while the Argonauts travel to La Quinta. Both games start at 3 pm.