On a beautiful Thursday afternoon, the Santa Clara Bruins’ frosh-soph (junior varsity) baseball squad (8-1) didn’t exactly paint a Picasso. But despite only one hard hit ball through the first five innings (a rocket double by sophomore Noah Dembowski) and some free passes given up by starting pitcher Elias Verdusco, the Bruins still managed to beat Cupertino (4-4) by a 4-1 final.
Verdusco didn’t have his best stuff by any stretch, but he showed a calm composure on the mound worthy of a professional, much less a high school sophomore. After the first batter of the game reached on an eight-pitch walk, Verdusco caught him stealing with a pickoff throw to first base. It was a big out as Verdusco walked another batter later in the inning before retiring the side without allowing a run.
A similar situation occurred in the top of the fifth. When a runner at first base took off far too early, Bruins infielders yelled “Step off! Step off!” Verdusco astutely stepped off the rubber and made a good throw to second base for the out. That play turned out to be extremely important as the next two batters each singled, which would have knocked in the go-ahead run if not for the caught stealing.
“We work on that everyday at practice,” commented Pitching/Assistant Coach Al Bonvicino. “We have a drill with our pitchers where we put all of our pitchers on the mound and work pickoff plays.”
Both Bonvicino and Head Coach Pedro Martinez describe Verdusco as a very relaxed kid who doesn’t get over-hyped or too excited on the diamond. That easy going vibe certainly helped him get through six innings of work on the mound, allowing just one run.
“I felt good out there, I always like to come out here and pitch on my home field mound,” noted Verdusco in an unsurprisingly calm and mature voice. “Batters usually hit me so I have to be strong at holding runners on.”
Verdusco executing the fundamentals on the mound was a big part of the victory, an important lesson in playing good baseball. However, it wasn’t the only teachable moment for Martinez’s squad.
In the fourth inning, freshman Tyler Penrod misplayed a pop up at second base that probably should have been caught. That said, he didn’t let the error bother him as the next two balls came his way. Penrod would make both of the plays on ground balls, the second of which caromed off the pitcher, but he stuck with it and threw the runner out. While the tying run from the initial error did come around to score, the inning really could have gotten out of hand had Penrod not made the subsequent plays. The freshman would also come up big in the top of the sixth with an acrobatic run-saving catch on a tricky pop up into shallow right field.
“When you make an error, like coach Pedro says, ‘the error does not define the player, the next play defines him’” chimed Penrod about his defensive sequence. “So just bounce back from the error.”
“We had the one pop up that we dropped, [Penrod] didn’t falter, didn’t get scared. He got a ground ball the same inning and got it done,” recalled Martinez. “He got two of them that inning actually and later made a catch in the outfield. He stepped up, it’s all about the next play, next play, wipe the slate clean.”
Short memories on defense and pitching fundamentals; two important lessons certainly paid off for the Bruins. The maturity from Verdusco and Penrod helped keep the Bruins in the game until the offense could get going. Sophomore outfielder Alijah Amaya led off the bottom of the sixth inning with a scorching double down the left field line, igniting a go-ahead, three-run rally. Amaya then came into pitch the top of the seventh to close out the victory.