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Botched opportunity: Lindhurst to finish third in GEL baseball
The Lindhurst High baseball team was two outs away.
After freshman Andrew Sutton found a way to penetrate the armor of Capital Christian right-hander Ben Ritchey with a two-run homer over the 355 sign in left-center field, the Blazers held a 2-1 lead headed into the seventh inning.
On the first pitch of the inning, Lindhurst junior right-hander Timmy Zucco induced a popout. With only two outs left, Zucco knew what was at stake — a No. 2 seed in the postseason and the luxury of not having to participate in a play-in game.
He struck out seven, tossed a complete game on 106 pitches and only allowed one earned run, yet the Blazers failed to do what playoff teams must at all times — play catch.
Two of the Cougars' three runs on Monday came courtesy of Lindhurst errors and Capital Christian held on for the 3-2 Golden Empire League victory in Olivehurst, clinching the GEL's No. 2 seed in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V playoffs.
Lindhurst (11-11, 9-6) will be the league's No. 3 seed and take part in a play-in game on May 16 against the No. 3 seed out of the Mother Lode League.
Before Monday's game, Lindhurst coach David Morris told his team "the playoffs begin today." The pitcher's duel between Zucco and Ritchey supported that statement.
Both hurlers tossed up zeroes through the first five innings.
Morris said his team will need to make plays behind Zucco if the Blazers hope to make it past next Monday's play-in game.
After Zucco surrendered two doubles in the top of the seventh, the Blazers committed defensive miscues that resulted in two runs for the Cougars (15-6, 11-3).
"The defense is what's going to win or lose games for us and unfortunately it cost us another game," Morris said. "It's one of those things we've been working on. We're not executing right now."
Until Sutton's sixth-inning blast, the Blazers didn't execute much at the plate either.
That was more to the credit of Ritchey, a sophomore who struck out 14 batters. He struck out the side three times, including the bottom of the seventh.
Capital Christian coach Nelson Randolph said Ritchey should be the MVP of the league. After Lindhurst went ahead 2-1 in the sixth, Randolph told his team to think of the seventh inning as the first playoff situation of many in the coming weeks.
"We knew we were going to be in for a battle," Randolph said. "(The playoffs) are going to be highly competitive. We have to be able to make the routine play. If we can't do that we're going to be in a world of trouble."
So will Lindhurst.
The Cougars' broke open a 0-0 tie in the top of the sixth with two outs after Lindhurst committed a run-producing error.
If the defense can make plays behind him, Zucco is a tough pitcher to beat as his outing on Monday showed.
"Without the errors we could have won; we've given these guys a run for their money," Zucco said. "Those little things hurt us."
Lindhurst ends the regular season on Wednesday at Capital Christian.
The Blazers are back in the postseason for the second straight year. In 2010, Lindhurst was three outs away from pulling off an upset over No. 1 Mariposa before giving up a two-run lead.
A sophomore at the time, Zucco remembers being on the mound that game and has been waiting a year for another shot.
"It's game on," Zucco said. "It's time to battle."