By Jeremy Balan
Until further notice, Washington High School is still the team to beat in Academic Athletic Association baseball.
In a showdown of undefeated teams, the defending AAA champs headed into the top of the fifth inning trailing Lowell 4-3, but scored eight runs in the fifth en route to a 11-5 win on Wednesday at Big Rec, sealing the top seed in the league playoffs.
The Eagles sent 12 batters to the plate, collected six hits and worked three walks in the crucial fifth.
“Up and down the lineup, it’s a nice group,” Washington head coach Rob Fung said of the Eagles’ offense, which has averaged nearly 11 runs per game this season and just under 18 in AAA play. “We didn’t have it going early [in the season] and that’s a good thing. We’re just hitting our stride.”
Washington junior second baseman Christopher Yee began the scoring in the fifth inning with a two-RBI single and senior Dane Vande Guchte punctuated the rally with a bases-clearing, three-RBI triple into left-center field. Vande Guchte also doubled in the first inning and scored the first run of the game.
“It was a pretty good pitch and he thew me a first-pitch curveball that surprised me,” Vande Guchte said of his at-bat in the fifth inning. “I had a feeling he was going to throw me a down-and-away fastball and I just jumped on it.”
Vande Guchte also picked up the win as Washington’s starting pitcher, throwing four innings, striking out two and allowing six hits. The senior worked his way in and out of trouble, most notably a bases-loaded jam with no outs in the second inning.
“He’s our best hitter. He’s our best player,” Fung said. “When you have Vande Guchte and you have [Chris] Hau coming out of the bullpen, it makes my job easy. They’re special kids.”
Both teams came into the game tied for first place in the A Division at 12-0, but Washington clinched top seed in the AAA playoffs with the win due to a drawing earlier in the week that determined if the teams split their two-game series, the Eagles (19-8, 13-0) would take first place. That renders the second meeting between the two teams on Thursday essentially meaningless and if the game is rained out, it will not be rescheduled.
With that knowledge, Fung inserted Hau, his No. 2 starter, to replace Vande Guchte after he surrendered the fifth Lowell run of the game on a RBI single by Max Barnes in the bottom of the fifth inning.
If Hau would have surrendered the lead, he likely would not have been able to start on Thursday.
“We rolled the dice,” Fung said.
Vande Guchte did his fair share of damage to Lowell starting pitcher Elijah Saunders, but Saunders looked like the early hero with a solo inside-the-park home run to right-center field that gave the Cardinals (23-6, 12-1) a 4-3 lead in the third inning.
Lowell also got two-hit performances from juniors Andy Glickfeld and Aaron Leong, but the 12 Washington hits, four walks allowed and four Lowell fielding errors were too much to overcome.
“We’ve come back on teams before, so it was no surprise we got back on top 4-3, but 11 is a lot of runs,” said Lowell head coach John Donohue. “It reminded me that we still have work to do.”
Despite the loss, the Cardinals will still be the overwhelming favorite to meet the Eagles in the AAA championship game scheduled for May 5 at AT&T Park.
“The worst we can finish is second place and every team we’re playing [until the championship game], we’ve beaten, so from that standpoint, our kids bring a lot of confidence,” Donohue said. “We’ve kept things together all season, so there is no reason, because of the result today, to get down on ourselves.”
W – Dane Vande Guchte scores on a wild pitch
W – Christopher Yee singles, Jordan Wilson scores
W – Gio Soloranzo hits a sacrifice fly, Yee scores
L – Aaron Leong singles, Andy Glickfeld scores
L – Max Lewin reaches on an error, Max Barnes scores
L – Max Barnes grounds out, Jake Simons scores
L – Elijah Saunders homers
W – Yee singles, Javon Phillips and Wilson score
W – Avery Velasco singles, Yee scores
W – Sean Matthews singles, Christopher Hau scores
W – Vande Guchte triples, Soloranzo, Matthews and Zach Dair score
W – Phillips hits a sacrifice fly, Vande Guchte scores
L – Barnes singles, Simons scores