In the first two games of the three-game series between the San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande high school baseball teams, the bats exploded like fireworks on the Fourth of July. The teams combined for 36 runs.
On Friday night in San Luis Obispo, the two starting pitchers threw nothing but cold water.
San Luis Obispo’s Jeremey Jess and Arroyo Grande’s Jake Shusterich, two of the best pitchers in the PAC 8, neutralized the offenses for both teams, making the margin for error small. It just so happened that San Luis Obsipo made the biggest error. It ended up costing the Tigers the game and gave Arroyo Grande a 2-1 win.
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The game was scoreless until the top of the sixth inning when Arroyo Grande worked runners on the corners. With two outs and two strikes, Arroyo Grande head coach Brad Lachemann tried to manufacture a run by forcing a mistake. Cameron Hirahara took a big lead off first base and dared Jess to try to pick him off.
“We were trying to get (the runner on first) in a pickle so we can sneak home,” Lachemann said.
Jess bit and the gamble paid off.
“A lot of times the runner at third will jab and jab, and it makes the first baseman make kind of an off-balance throw,” Lachemann said. “And that’s kinda what happened.”
San Luis Obispo first baseman Jake Mano sailed his throw to second base into left field, and Cameron Rodlin scored from third for the game’s first run. Nash Ackerman hit the next pitch off third base so hard the ball shot over the head of Bryce Ramirez and rolled into left field. Hirahara scored to make it 2-0.
“It was a good, clean game 99 percent of the time, just that one throwing error and that was it,” San Luis Obispo head coach Brian Wong said. “The team that makes the fewest mistakes usually wins, and that was them.”
Shusterich The SLO Killer
After the win, Shusterich tired to shy away from a post-game interview. But the big right-hander didn’t shy from the spotlight in the biggest series of the season.
It started on Tuesday when Shusterich hit a solo home run in the top of the seventh inning to put Arroyo Grande up 11-10 and give the Eagles its first win of the series. On Wednesday, Arroyo Grande lost 10-3, but Shusterich was the only player to get to SLO’s freshman pitcher Cooper Benson. He did it in a big way, with a three-run home run to center field.
Shusterich continued to torture the Tigers on Friday, this time from the mound. He went seven innings with two strike outs and gave up just three hits.
“I changed my approach from just trying to throw hard to just trying to keep the ball down and hit my spots and throw a lot of pitches for strikes to try and keep them off balance,” Shusterich said. “It ended up working out, and my defense stepped up.”
“He was really locating his cutter, so that was the difference. Really tough for both teams to make solid contact,” Lachemann said. “He is a tough kid. When it was gut check time, he made good pitches.”
Four of the seven innings, San Luis Obispo had runners in scoring position with less than two outs and only managed one run.
Jess struck out seven and gave up four hits in the loss.
Devastating Double Play
With the bases loaded in the bottom of the fourth inning, it looked like the Tigers were ready to get on the board first.
Lefty Tru Wells was at the plate and drove a high fastball to center field. It appeared to be headed for grass, but Nolan Elias was playing in and caught the ball on the run and in one smooth motion threw it to second base for the inning-ending double play.
Then he high-stepped his way back to the dugout.
Drama To End
It just wouldn’t be a rivalry game without at least some drama. On Wednesday, it came when Arroyo Grande’s Kale Varvel was ejected on what the umpire determined to be an illegal slide into second base that took out SLO shortstop Matt Mundorf.
Varvel’s replacement, Alex Cecchi, added a little bit of drama Friday on the final play of the game.
With two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, Mundof hit a fly ball to left field. Cecchi camped under it and caught it, then the ball fell to the ground. But umpires ruled he had made the catch and the ball was dropped on the transfer.
Both coaches agreed with the call, though the San Luis Obispo players and fans were irate.
“I told him next time to run it all the way in and put in on the mound,” Lachemann said.
“He just got a little over-excited, but yeah, he caught the ball,” Wong said. “I’m not that worried about it.”
Despite the series loss, San Luis Obispo (15-6, 10-2 PAC 8) still controls its own destiny. Arroyo Grande (15-5, 9-3 PAC 8) will have to win out and hope for San Luis Obispo to lose at least one game for a shot at the PAC 8 title. With upcoming series against Mission Prep (2-10 PAC 8), Pioneer Valley (5-7 PAC 8) and Atascadero (5-7 PAC 8), Lachemann isn’t overly confident.
“It is going to be tough for anybody to beat them,” Lachemann said. “We will have our fingers crossed and try to play good on our side. That’s all we can do.”
Arroyo Grande opens next week at home on Tuesday, the start of a three-game series against Pioneer Valley.