It’s an increasingly risky proposition to try to pitch around anyone in the lineup of the North County Christian baseball team.
Of the top five hitters in the Crusaders’ order, their batting averages range from the .392 of Taylor Brard in the clean-up spot to the .593 of Daniel Katches leading off.
The top half of that order lived up to that kind of production Tuesday afternoon at Alvord Field in Atascadero, combining to drive in every run during an 11-6 CIF-Southern Section Division 7 second-round playoff win over New Community Jewish (10-5) of West Hills.
North County Christian, the No. 2 overall seed in the division and the only San Luis Obispo County prep baseball or softball team still playing, pushed its unbeaten record to 18-0.
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Katches was a team-best 4 for 4 with two RBI, while Keelan Willison, batting fifth, was 2 for 4, including a triple and a double en route to a game-high five RBI. Brard added a two-run single and drew a walk. The Crusaders’ No. 9 hitter, Joe Honeycutt, also had a double.
“Last year, it was certain individuals that kind of led (at the plate),” said senior pitcher Josh Feld, batting third. “This year, it’s everyone. That’s why we’re undefeated.”
Such depth wasn’t quite as pronounced in 2009, when Feld led North County Christian in batting average, home runs, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, not to mention pacing all of Division 7 with 43 RBI. This season, however, other Crusaders are leading the team in each of those categories.
“The bottom of the lineup will make a play happen or a hit happen and contribute,” said Feld, who’s batting .479 with 24 RBI and four doubles. “It’s every man. It’s not a certain individual — it’s all of us.”
Feld accounted for a two-RBI sacrifice fly Tuesday.
The Crusaders will now travel to face Animo Leadership of Inglewood (16-9) in the quarterfinals at 3:15 p.m. Friday. Cornerstone Christian of Camarillo (21-3), the Omega League champion, is the bracket’s No. 1 seed. The divisional championship game will be June 4 at UC Riverside.
The Crusaders committed three errors Tuesday, and had to rally from an uncharacteristic 4-0 first-inning deficit. Feld, who now has a 2.33 ERA through 45 innings of work, got the start, scattering three hits and giving up four earned runs through six innings. He struck out four batters and walked five. Brard then came on to toss a hitless seventh, striking out two batters and walking one.
“I had to work my senior pitcher a little stronger and harder than I wanted to,” Crusaders coach Terry Denning said of Feld, “but he came up and did the job.”
As for the quarterfinals, Denning said he was unsure of the pending availability of Feld, who was about 30 pitches over his usually desired count.
Feld, a 6-foot, 180-pounder who won Coast Valley League MVP honors as a junior, owns several school season and career records, and as a sophomore hurled the first perfect game in program history. He’s hoping to continue his career at nearby Cuesta College, he said.
Among North County Christian’s wins this year were two over Coast Union, a future CVL foe with roughly three times its enrollment.
In keeping the unblemished record intact, Denning said, he has tried to convey to his players the mindset of a marathon runner mentally breaking up a long race into a few miles at a time, not looking back at the considerable time and ground covered from the beginning.
“That’s where we’re at now,” Denning said. “We weren’t expecting (to be undefeated this late in the year). We were just hoping to win league and get into the playoffs, and now we’re sitting here.
“Let’s not say, ‘We’ve got 18 wins a row.’ We’ve got three wins to go (in order to win a divisional title). All we have to do is win three games.”