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DIVISION I BASEBALL : Barons Hang On, Beat Esperanza


Ron LaRuffa, Fountain Valley High School baseball coach, was taking the glass-is-half-full stance after the Barons' 8-6 victory over Esperanza Tuesday. There was, he said, a lot to be thankful about.

That the Barons would be playing Simi Valley Friday in the quarterfinals of the Southern Section Division I playoffs was quite satisfying. That they had knocked off the defending Division I champion and set a school record for victories was even worth celebrating.

But, in the end, the Barons were most thankful that they had hung on after teetering toward collapse, nearly blowing an 8-0 lead.

"A win is a win," LaRuffa said. "This team is peaking."

It certainly was through five innings. The Barons (24-3-1), the No. 1-seeded team, were leading, 8-0, and had Chris Ponchak, their rather nasty closer, on the mound.

The ingredients were right, but the mix was volatile. Esperanza was unwilling to give up its position as reigning champion without a fight.

The Aztecs (14-13) scored six runs in the sixth and had the tying run at the plate before Ponchak got the final out.

"I was second-guessing myself 8 million times (for bringing in Ponchak)," LaRuffa said. "But he has been the guy who comes in and closes things out."

Ponchak, showed why in the seventh. He was bloodied mentally and physically--after being tagged in the face in the top of the seventh--but he was in command again. The Aztecs went down meekly.

"I'm not worried about that," LaRuffa said. "There were too many good things today. We played good baseball in all but one inning."


The Barons got clutch hits from the bottom of the order. Craig Ritter and Dan Keller, the Nos. 8 and 9 batters, each drove in two runs. It was the second consecutive game they have made big contributions. Both had two hits in a 14-1 first-round victory over Montebello Schurr Friday.

"The top of the order had been carrying us during league," Keller said. "Craig and I talked about it. We wanted to do it in the playoffs."

Fountain Valley also got solid pitching. Starter Tony Liuzzi (7-0) allowed only three hits and struck out five in five innings.

"He didn't throw a lot of pitches, except in the bullpen," LaRuffa said.

The Barons even avoided disaster when they ran into it. Danny Hoppie nearly passed teammate Deric Yanagisawa at third base in the fourth inning. Only a poor relay throw prevented the inning from ending with the base-running blunder. The Barons then scored four runs with two outs to break a scoreless tie.

"Danny just forgot who was running in front of him," LaRuffa said. "Deric isn't the fastest guy. We'll work on that tomorrow."

Thankfully, for LaRuffa and the Barons, there will be a tomorrow.

In other Division I games:

El Dorado 4, Fontana 3--Jeff Moore had three hits, including an RBI single to score Chris Beck with the go-ahead run in the top of the sixth inning, and Benito Flores and Spencer Frost added two hits each to lead visiting El Dorado (21-7). The Golden Hawks will face Crescenta Valley in the quarterfinals.

Lakewood 14, Katella 1--Jae Park had a hit and a run scored and Dave Rojo had an RBI triple for host Katella (18-9-1). Lakewood (22-6) scored six runs in each of the fourth and fifth innings.

Mater Dei 3, Palos Verdes Peninsula 0--Sophomore Mike Hessman (8-3) gave up one hit, a single in the fifth, and struck out eight to lead host Mater Dei (18-8-1). Erik Mattern had a double and two RBIs and Mike Waugh added two hits for the Monarchs, who will play second-seeded Lakewood Friday.

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