With two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning Tuesday, Valley Christian Academy's Andrew Sparlin singled home the first run against El Monte Arroyo of these baseball playoffs.
Arroyo senior right-hander Felix Perez made sure that would not quite be enough.
Unfazed by Sparlin's RBI single, Perez finished a complete game, and a 2-1 win for the Knights in a CIF Southern Section Division 7 semifinal at VCA, by setting down the next four VCA hitters.
"Well, that was an exciting game," said VCA coach Pete Fortier after the Lions finished 11-8-1 after making the first semifinal appearance for a VCA baseball team in school history. The Knights are 14-8-1.
Perez made two first-inning Arroyo runs stand up. The first four Knights to bat racked up a hit against VCA starter Dylan Fulton, and Perez doubled in the first run with a drive that hit the top of the right-field wall.
Alexander Peterson, the next hitter, doubled in Perez with the eventual winning run.
With runners on second and third and no outs, Fulton escaped further damage by setting down the next three hitters. He settled in after that, and the Lions hung close despite being out-hit 9-4.
The Knights made no errors. The Lions made three, though none of them resulted in an unearned run.
Fulton got away unscathed after the Knights had runners on first and second with no outs in the fifth. However, the Lions simply could not do enough against Perez.
"He's a good pitcher," said Fortier. "He moved the ball around really well, mixed up his pitches, kept us off balance."
Perez "was really accurate, but his speed was nominal," said VCA catcher Timmy Trenkle who doubled with two outs in the bottom of the first for VCA's only extra-base hit.
"We just didn't get the bats going soon enough."
The Lions came up just short against a team whose school's enrollment dwarfs their own.
"Their coach told me they have 2,500 kids," said Fortier. "We have 55-60."
Both teams made big defensive plays. Arroyo center fielder Aaron Martinez raced back and, a few feet from the center field fence, grabbed Fulton's drive for the last out of the fourth.
"I really thought (the ball Fulton hit) was going out," said Fortier.
Jason Rios tried to score from second on a two-out Ethan Vargas single to right in the sixth, but VCA right fielder Jessen Lopez's throw home to Trenkle beat Rios easily. Rios ran into Trenkle, who held on to the ball for the third out.
Trenkle gave Rios a hard look for several seconds before he returned to his dugout.
"(Rios) is going to have to sit out (the divisional championship game)," said Fortier. "According to CIF Southern Section rules, he has to attempt to make a slide.
"That (play) could have really hurt our catcher. I don't think it was anything malicious. I think (Rios) was just trying to knock the ball loose and score. Of course, the catcher is going to take it personal," when a collision happens, said Fortier.
Even though the Lions came up just short, they had quite a post-season run.
"We were the underdog in the first round, and we beat the top seed (Rancho Cucamonga United Christian Academy) 14-4 down there," in the quarterfinals, Fortier said.
"That was our best game of the year."
Trenkle said, "Our season ended sooner than I thought it would. There wasn't any big turning point for us (during VCA's playoff run). We just played our game."
Sparlin, the starting first baseman, and Fulton switched positions after the fifth inning Tuesday, and Sparlin blanked the Knights on two hits.
However, Arroyo shortstop Ivan Ortega, running far toward third base and on the outfield grass, grabbed a pop fly back-handed for the second out of the bottom seventh and Perez got his eighth strikeout of the game to end it.
Perez walked just one batter, and that was when the Knights walked Trenkle intentionally with two outs in the sixth. The next batter, Sparlin, made the Knights pay with his RBI single.
Noel Acosta, the No. 9 hitter in the Arroyo lineup, went 3-for-3. Lead-off batter Aaron Martinez had two hits for the Knights, who didn't have an extra-base hit after the two first-inning doubles.
Arroyo will play Pasadena Marshall Saturday for the Division 7 championship. The site and time will be announced Wednesday.