The Santa Clara Bruins varsity baseball squad entered Friday night’s game against the Fremont Firebirds in first place in the El Camino Division (8-4). Conversely, Fremont began the game in the league bottom with (4-8). Despite being last in the standings, the Firebirds were leading the league in runs scored (75) going into the game, one more than the Bruins (74). Therefore, it was likely that Santa Clara would need a strong showing offensively to come away victorious. Unfortunately for Bruins fans, that didn’t happen. Santa Clara set the table often, but failed to convert with runners in scoring position.
While Santa Clara managed to get out a 2-0 lead, they did so without any loud contact. In the bottom of the second, shortstop Tyler Kennedy led off with a walk before a back-to-back perfectly placed bunt singles along the third base line and loaded the bases. The first of the bunts came via starting catcher Zach Gates.
“We practice it a lot,” commented Gates on the frequency of the Bruins’ bunting for hits. “I seemed to execute it a couple times in the games, so it worked out tonight.”
With the bases juiced and nobody out, right fielder Brandon Mungaray blooped a single into shallow right field for an RBI single. Leadoff hitter and speedster Kyle Martin would follow that up with a sacrifice fly to left field.
“He gets on base a lot,” noted Bruins Head Coach Sean Grizzle on Martin. “He’s one of our best hitters, highest average on the team. Been our most consistent guy all season.”
After the sacrifice fly, the Bruins still had runners at first and second with only one out. However, two hitter Mikey Souza would pop out to shallow right field and three hitter Pako Vehikite would groundout to third base to end the inning.
A bigger lead would have meant more wiggle room for starting pitcher Kyle Young who battled through three plus innings. The soft throwing lefty’s curveball never seemed to break, but he exited the game in the fourth inning with a 2-0 lead intact. That said, he was pulled with runners at first and third with nobody out in the top of the fourth.
“He battled, he just didn’t have it tonight,” remarked Grizzle. “He was kind of at a point where I felt like they were starting to hit him.”
Mungaray, a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher, brought relief. The lead runner would come into score on a delayed double steal, but Mungaray pitched effectively and should have escaped the jam with the lead. He retired the first two batters he faced, before an error allowed the tying run to score. The game would head into the bottom of the fourth tied at two.
After Martin reached on a one-out bunt single and stole second base, the Bruins looked like they might have something going. However, Souza would line out to center field and Vehikite struck out swinging to end the inning.
“We had a lot of opportunities early and didn’t cash in,” admitted Grizzle. “We had a lot of bad at bats with guys in scoring position. That’s where I felt we were really flat. We took too many pitches, too passive early in the game. We had like eight hits early, but just two runs.”
The lack of timely hits came back to haunt in the sixth inning when the Firebirds took the lead for good. Mungaray would give up back-to-back sharp singles after retiring the leadoff hitter. Grizzle then brought Young back into the game to pitch. Young would strikeout the next batter but both runners moved up on steals. An RBI single and wild pitch later and the Firebirds were up 4-2.
Fremont would tack on three more runs in the seventh inning and the Bruins bats would go quiet in their final two chances. The loss tied the Bruins with Cupertino for first place at 8-5. Santa Clara holds the tiebreaker over the Pioneers though, having won two of the three head-to-head matchups. The Bruins control their own destiny and can win the league by winning their final two games. They play Monta Vista, which has scored the fewest runs (46) in the league and Gunn, which has given up the most runs (78). Santa Clara meanwhile has scored 72 and given up just 62.