By Austin Green
Senior designated hitter Devin LeClair capped off a seven-run second inning with a towering grand slam over the right field fence and the Burbank High School’s baseball team never looked back, handing Baldwin Park Sierra Vista an 11-3 drubbing in their CIF-SS Division 5 playoff opener.
Burbank (13-5 record) only recorded six hits, but also worked nine walks and took advantage of all four errors Sierra Vista committed on Tuesday.
“We’re always trying to put pressure on defenses by putting the ball in play,” Bulldogs head coach Bob Hart said. “That’s a big thing for us. If you put the ball in play, good things happen.”
Senior second baseman Daniel Neria led off the bottom of the second with a walk, advanced to second base on a single from junior third baseman Wyatt Lamarsna, took third on a passed ball, then scrambled home when the throw to third sailed into the outfield.
Senior outfielder Jacob Drossin and junior outfielder Jacob Avellanda walked to load the bases for senior starting pitcher Ryan Schenk, who skied one to deep left field for what looked to be a sacrifice fly, only for the Sierra Vista left fielder to misplay the ball and allow two more runs to score. Senior shortstop Ryan King was hit by a pitch to load the bases again, and after senior first baseman Jaden Rez struck out, LeClair crushed the first pitch he saw for a no-doubt grand slam to give Burbank a 7-0 lead.
“[Sierra Vista pitcher Mick Flores] attacked me the first time with a kind of similar pitch, so that’s what I was looking for,” LeClair said. “The catcher said something like, ‘Easy out’ so I had to prove him wrong.”
Bulldogs head coach Bob Hart tweeted after the game that he was still looking for LeClair’s home run ball on the school’s football field, which is located beyond right-center field on Burbank’s campus. The longtime Bulldogs skipper was thrilled for LeClair, who has missed a lot of his high school baseball career due to injury and the coronavirus-caused early cancellation of the 2020 season.
“Any time guys come up big in moments like that, I’m so happy for him,” Hart said. “The joy of coaching is watching them grow up and have those kinds of moments. It’s very rewarding to say the least.”
The Bulldogs tacked on two more in each of the third and fourth innings. In the third, Drossin worked a two-out walk, stole second and scored on an RBI single from Avellanda. Flores then hit the next three batters to bring home another run, causing head coach Kris Jensen to finally pull his starter.
In the fourth, Neria reached on a two-base error from the Dons’ right fielder, LaMarsna singled, and both came home three batters later when Sierra Vista’s second baseman made a throwing error on what likely could have been a double play ball from Avellanda.
The run support was more than enough for Burbank’s pitching although Schenk, the Bulldogs’ lefty ace, somewhat struggled with his pitch command but was able to work his way out of multiple jams. Sierra Vista loaded the bases on a walk, single and hit by pitch in the first inning before Schenk got a groundout to second to end the inning. In the third, Schenk allowed the first three batters to reach, but got the lead runner between second and third on a pickoff play and retired the next two hitters he faced to keep the game scoreless.
“He wasn’t his usual self, but he did battle,” Hart said of his starter.
When Burbank loaded the bases again to start the top of the fourth, however, Hart pulled Schenk for senior right-hander Olaf Kuiper, who allowed two RBI singles to bring home all three runs, though Burbank again got a key out on the basepaths, this time catching a baserunner rounding third to help Kuiper end the frame. Neria, the Bulldogs’ No. 2 starter, came on in relief and looked very impressive in three scoreless innings of work, striking out four.
“[Neria] kind of sets the standard for competitive edge with our team,” Hart. “He’s kind of a quiet leader but he leads by his performance. He’s been outstanding for me for four years, I couldn’t be luckier.”
The Bulldogs will head to the desert to play at Hemet on Tuesday, though CIF schedules are subject to change.
After finishing fourth in the Pacific League, John Burroughs drew a CIF wild-card round “play-in” matchup at El Monte Arroyo in the CIF-SS Division 5 postseason bracket. The Bears beat Arroyo, 5-1, led by two RBI from junior first baseman Andrew Chapman. Sophomore starting pitcher Nick Forrest threw four innings of one-run ball to earn the win and junior Vasista Dhyasani tossed two scoreless innings in relief. Sophomore center fielder Sebastian Zamora had two hits and scored a run.
However, Burroughs was unable to keep the momentum going in their first-round matchup at Malibu on Tuesday, falling 5-2 to the Sharks.
The Bears finished the season at 12-12 overall and 8-6 in Pacific League play in head coach Matt Magallon’s first year at the helm.