One reason Esperanza High School may be favored to repeat as Southern Section 4-A baseball champion is the team's depth. Friday afternoon, it was the Aztecs' pitching that led them to a 9-6 opening-round victory against Riverside Poly at Esperanza.
The Aztecs lost starting ace Roger Weems to a pinched nerve in his shoulder in the first inning and had to bring in No. 2 pitcher Jason Moler. Moler started poorly, however, giving up home runs to Darrell Conner and Steve Goodson that gave Riverside (14-11) an early 3-0 lead.
Esperanza's offense came to life in the bottom half of the inning when Erik Franzen singled and Fred Ashcraft and Brent Bish hit back-to-back home runs, tying the score, 3-3. The next inning, the Aztecs' Doug Saunders, who was 3 for 3, hit a ground-rule double, and Kevin Webb drove him in with a single.
Saunders tripled in the fourth, after a single by Clint Holt and an intentional walk to Tom Redington, to drive in two more runs.
"Doug's eyes light up when they walk Tom, it's like automatic RBIs," said Aztec Coach Mike Curran.
Curran went to his No. 3 pitcher, junior Rob Nay, in the fifth. He responded by allowing only two hits and striking out four the rest of the way.
Esperanza (22-2) had 12 hits, Redington, Ashcraft and Bish each had two hits.
"I know I felt better bringing in my No. 3 man than he (Riverside Poly Coach Rich Graves) did. Our depth gives us a big advantage," Curran said.
Riverside Poly, third-place finisher in the Citrus Belt League, had nine hits and was led by Ryan Cobb (2 for 3 with three RBIs).
Esperanza, Empire League champion, will face Diamond Bar, winner against Jordon, Tuesday.
In other 4-A action:
Mater Dei 7, Palos Verdes 3--Mater Dei's Jim Austin capped a four-run third inning with a three-run home run to left field as the Monarchs held on for a 7-3 victory at Palos Verdes.
Sophomore pitcher Bill Brockschmidt (4-3) gave up seven hits and five walks in 6 innings to earn the victory. He needed relief help from Greg Shockey, who worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the seventh to get the save.
Mater Dei (17-6-1), the third-place team from the Angelus League, will play Crespi Tuesday. Bay League champion Palos Verdes ends its season at 18-9.
Austin's home run was the only hit of the third inning. All four runs were unearned as the Monarchs took advantage of two walks and an error. With a runner at first and one out, Kevin O'Connor hit a ground ball up the middle that second baseman Lance Haworth juggled for an error.
After a sacrifice fly by Joe Ciccarella broke the 1-1 tie, Austin homered off losing pitcher Gregg Jahelka (8-1).
El Dorado 13, Culver City 2--The Golden Hawks scored 10 runs in the second inning at El Dorado. Steve Gill (9-3) allowed one hit and one run and struck out four in four innings for El Dorado. Chris Olsen had a three-run home run in the second to help the Golden Hawks (20-4) who will play Simi Valley in Tuesday's second round.