DANVILLE – The Monte Vista High baseball team took a significant step toward earning its first East Bay Athletic League championship since 2005 with a tense 3-2 win over visiting De La Salle on Friday.
The surging Mustangs (15-7, 9-3) moved one game ahead of the Spartans (14-8, 8-4) with two games remaining in the tough EBAL.
“Huge victory,” Mustangs junior catcher Connor Bruce said. “We”ve been looking forward to this game for awhile, since they beat us 10-0. We wanted vengeance.”
Reliever John Hooper, backed by an impeccable defense, nailed down the emotional win, retiring the Spartans in order over the sixth and seventh innings.
A jubilant Hooper hugged Bruce after shortstop Charles Zaloumis ranged to his left, fielded a ground ball and threw out Armani Smith at first to end the game and give the Mustangs their sixth straight win.
“We always talk about how every game after he gets a save we hug each other,” Bruce said of the moment. “We just keep wanting more hugs.”
Bruce drove in what proved to be the game-winning run with a clutch two-out single to left in the bottom of the third to break a 2-2 tie.
“It was surreal,” Bruce said of the RBI. “Everything you dream of as a kid … Two outs … runner on third, and just hit it right in the six-hole.”
De La Salle, with 6-foot-7 ace Justin Hooper on the mound, appeared en route to a better fate early on. The Spartans led 1-0 on an RBI single by Michael McAdoo in the second, but the Mustangs, known for their come-from-behind wins, responded with two in the bottom of the inning as Hooper struggled with his control. Ryan Marsh and Cameron Bothwell scored during the rally, and Zaloumis had an RBI groundout.
The Spartans tied it 2-2 in the third as Michael Reuling scored from third when Joe Vranish hit into a bases-loaded double play with no outs off reliever CJ Perkins. Mustangs third baseman Mike Ricupito fielded the grounder, stepped on third and fired to first on the impressive double play, one of three Monte Vista turned in the game.
The Spartans replaced Justin Hooper, who walked five and hit a batter over three innings to take the loss, with reliever Connor Redmond. He was effective, limiting the Mustangs to two hits and no runs over three innings.
De La Salle has had a tough week, also falling to Amador Valley 4-3 on Tuesday, opening the door for the Mustangs, who have won six in a row after losing three straight.
Monte Vista coach Bill Piona described his team as “scrappy” earlier in the season, and Friday”s effort epitomized that moniker. The Spartans have an explosive, athletic and deep team.
“They can intimidate you, which is not a bad thing,” Piona said of the Spartans, “because they come out, they”re impressive; they”ve got a lot of guys; they”re good players. You have to stand there and take the punches, and I thought we did a good job of that. We faltered a little, but we hung in there.”