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West Ranch opens California Classic Elite tournament with small-ball win

Posted: July 19, 2013 9:26 p.m.
Updated: July 19, 2013 9:26 p.m.

West Ranch High's Jake Spurlin collects his fourth hit against Clovis West in the seventh inning on Friday at West Ranch High in the California Classic Elite Tournament.

West Ranch Wildcats head baseball coach Casey Burrill knows his team is going to have to play small ball in order to win games come the 2014 spring season.

If Friday’s bottom of the seventh inning in the Wildcats’ opening game of the first-year California Classic summer tournament is any indication, small ball is looking like a pretty good strategy.

Tied in the bottom of the seventh against the Clovis West Golden Eagles and Jake Bird standing on third base, Cade Spurlin bunted as Bird raced home on a suicide squeeze attempt.

Clovis West pitcher Austin Johnson scrambled to get the ball home and was called for a balk to give West Ranch a 7-6 win.

Because high school rules call for a dead ball immediately upon a balk call, the scorebook reads that the game ended on a walk-off balk by Johnson to score Bird.

But it was the spot on execution of a small-ball strategy by Bird and Spurlin that directly led to the victory.

“All summer long it’s been a focus of our offense,” Burrill said. “We don’t think we’ll have the lineup for multiple massive hits (in 2014). We think we’re going to have to manufacture runs.”

The game was the first for West Ranch in the inaugural California Classic Elite Tournament, which features some of the top teams in Southern California against elite teams from Northern California — Clovis West has finished in the state’s top 50 five of the last six seasons.

Things looked bleak for the Wildcats entering the bottom of the seventh. West Ranch trailed 6-4 and hadn’t scratched across a run since the third inning.

But Jake Spurlin led off with a single and came around to score, along with Parker Bacon, on a game-changing error by Johnson after the pitcher threw the ball well over his first baseman on a sacrifice bunt attempt from Bird.

“Pitching and defense win you championships and we didn’t do a good job of either,” said Clovis West head coach Kevin Patrick. “You can’t give quality teams second chances like that.”

West Ranch gave Clovis West exactly one real opportunity, and the Golden Eagles took full advantage.

Wildcats starting pitcher A.J. West was dominant on the mound for five of his six innings.

But a disastrous third almost did West Ranch in.

West finished with six innings pitched, six runs allowed on five hits — all of which came in the third — and four strikeouts.

In the third inning, the first five Clovis West batters reached base, with Joey Rosel and Alec Emerzian picking up back-to-back RBIs, before Jordan McAllaster sent a two-RBI double to left to tie the score at 4-4.

Starting pitcher Weston Hutten followed up with a two-run home run to right-center field later in the inning for a 6-4 lead.

“I couldn’t find my pitch (that inning),” West said. “But putting up three zeros (after the third) is a huge confidence booster.”

The Wildcats got on the board early, taking a 3-0 first-inning lead on RBIs from Nick Ruffino, Spurlin and Bird. They would add another run in the third after Jake Spurlin led off with a double and eventually scored on a wild pitch, as part of a 4-for-4 day with three runs scored and an RBI for the senior first baseman.

“I felt good,” Jake Spurlin said. “It’s like a beach ball is coming at me.”

The Wildcats continue play in the California Classic with games today at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. against Bellarmine and Elk Grove, before concluding play on Sunday with a 10 a.m. game against De La Salle. All games are at West Ranch High School.

Notes: The tournament’s other scores were as follows: Harvard-Westlake 6, Elk Grove 2; Alemany 12, Bellarmine 8, Concord De La Salle 4, Moorpark 1. The Southern California teams are hosting regionals and will only play Northern California teams during the tournament.


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