If winning the close ones is an indicator of good baseball teams, Magnolia might be on the verge of something special this season.
All nine of the Sentinels' games this year have been decided by one or two runs. And visiting Magnolia has won seven, including Friday's 3-1 victory over Western. More important, the victory pushed Magnolia's Orange League record to 6-1, giving the Sentinels a two-game lead with eight league games left.
Pitching and defense have carried Magnolia to this point. The Sentinel arms, in particular, have been outstanding; after Josh Reding neutralized Western on a run and five hits Friday to go 4-0, Magnolia's team earned-run average stands out as a miserly 1.33.
"I told the kids before the season started if we make the routine plays and catch the ball, we could win close games," Magnolia Coach Manny Rodriguez said. "We start five sophomores, but the whole team has been executing well."
Western Coach Robert Harrison, whose team lost, 2-1, to Magnolia earlier this season--remained impressed Friday.
"They don't seem loaded with talent, but they do the job out there," Robertson said, after Western dropped to 4-9, 3-4 in league. "We're not out of the race yet, but this was a game we really needed."
Western struck first, scoring in the bottom of the first when David Bell reached base on an error, and Dean Chambers doubled him home.
Western's Bret Halbert tried to make it stand up, striking out five in the first three innings, but was still struggling with the strike zone. By the third, Halbert had thrown 52 pitches--24 in the third when he walked the bases loaded and struck out Edgar Casteneda on a 3-2 pitch to get out of trouble.
In the fourth, Halbert could hold off Magnolia no longer. Three straight hits, the last being Greg Young's RBI single to left, tied the score. A wild pitch moved runners to second and third, and the Sentinels promptly got the go-ahead run in on Ryan Hieman's sacrifice fly.
In the sixth, Magnolia's Richard Michealson smacked a one-out double to center and reached third on a passed ball. With two outs, Robert Nicols--whom Robertson noted, "hadn't touched a fastball all day"--got a 3-2 curve and dunked it into right for a run-scoring single.
"They wanted the game more than we did--all seven innings," Robertson said.
Meanwhile, Rodriguez won't mind if the rest of the Orange League keeps scratching their heads over the Sentinels' success.
"We know the race is not over. We've still got to play Valencia, which is real tough and several other good teams," Rodriguez said. "But Magnolia has not been in this position for a long time. And these kids are starting to believe in themselves."
In other Orange League games:
Brea Olinda 6, Anaheim 3--Ryan Knuth drove in two runs and worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth to pick up his second save of the season for Brea Olinda (6-6, 4-3). Rudy Herrera went two for four for Anaheim (1-6 in league).
Savanna 11, Valencia 3--Mike Manley hit a two-run home run in the third and a three-run homer in the fourth for visiting Savanna (5-10, 3-4).