With four players hitting at least .400 in no fewer than 30 at-bats heading into Tuesday’s game against the Templeton High baseball team, defending Los Padres League and CIF-Southern Section Division 5 champion Santa Ynez didn’t need any help manufacturing runs.
The hometown Eagles still gave the Pirates more than enough assistance.
Six different players committed errors — including five in an eight-run third inning — and Templeton turned a matchup of two of the league’s top teams into a bitter 9-3 defeat at Vineyard Athletic Park.
“It’s pretty brutal,” said junior left-handed pitcher Mac Lardner, who gave up eight unearned runs but will see his earned-run average dip below 1.75 despite his record falling to 5-4.
“Giving extra outs to a team like that, you just can’t do it or you’ll get hammered just like we saw.”
The Eagles (10-10, 6-3), who had ended Santa Ynez’s yearlong league unbeaten streak with a 7-3 road victory March 20, jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning.
Scott Rigdon led off with a single up the middle, and Austin Alarcon laced one of his own into right field two batters later. The Pirates (16-3, 7-2) threw the ball away trying to pick off Alarcon, allowing Rigdon to score, and Justin Altamirano hit a sacrifice to center to score Alarcon from third.
But after allowing only seven batters in the first two innings, the wheels fell off in the third when 12 Pirates came to the plate, including seven after the second out was recorded.
Lardner opened the frame with a strikeout before balls were dropped, booted, missed or thrown away throughout the diamond.
Not only the errors themselves, but the body language and lack of communication was puzzling for a team that entered the day one game back of first place Lompoc (7-1). It was part of the reason why coach Brad Macomber kept the Eagles in their team huddle for approximately 45 minutes following the loss.
“It all comes from practice,” Alarcon, a senior infielder, said. “When we’re warming up, not everyone is taking it as seriously as they could. I think he kind of hit it home right now with this lengthy conversation, and I think everyone is starting to understand that it all starts in practice.”
That inning-opening strikeout was the lone one on the day for Lardner, a Gonzaga commit who came into the contest with 65 punchouts in 52 innings pitched.
He and relievers Matteo D’Alphonso and Blake Van De Hoef combined for six walks, as pitchers on both squads had to deal with a small strike zone.
“I call it keyholing,” said Lardner, who also hit a batter and threw 105 pitches in five innings. The umpire “didn’t give me the inner or the outer third, just mainly in the middle, which is pretty tough. Especially against a team like that, if you don’t get the pitches, it makes for a long game.”
Nobody on Templeton had a multi-hit game, as Santa Ynez senior lefty Zachary Torra went the distance with five hits, three walks and four strikeouts.
Jacob Walsh doubled to lead off the second but was stranded at third. Shane Wyatt and Noah Bullard added singles, as the Eagles loaded the bases with only one out in the sixth.
But Bullard’s sacrifice fly to center to score Lardner was the only damage Templeton could manage, as a groundout ended the threat.
“You can’t help out their pitcher, and we did that, too,” Lardner said. “We were ahead in the count and still swinging at pitches over our heads or in the dirt. We can’t do that. We’ve got to take walks, take what they give us and not help them out.”
The Pirates got the run back in the seventh after two walks and a failed pick-off attempt send another ball astray.
The Eagles have five league games remaining, including a home tilt against first-place Lompoc — who Templeton beat 14-13 on April 14 — and contests agains the other two squads to beat the Eagles in league play: Cabrillo and Santa Maria.
Although there’s a couple of injuries to some usual starters, Templeton believes the pieces are there, and the Eagles are hoping Tuesday’s humbling loss serves as a wake-up call instead of a harbinger of more struggles.
“We’ve got to set our heads straight and know that practice is where we’ll get better,” Alarcon said. “I definitely know we can turn it around. With this team, we know that everyone wants it bad enough.”