After overcoming each of its Ocean League opponents on the way to an undefeated league record this season, the Santa Monica High School baseball team knew it couldn’t treat its first-round playoff opponent any differently if it was going to prevail.
The Vikings sailed through their league schedule, grabbing victories in each of their ten games to capture another Ocean League Championship, and were looking to continue the success in the Southern Section Division IV playoffs.
But the Diamond Ranch High School Panthers (14-11) spoiled the Vikings’ plans in the first round, handing host Santa Monica a narrow 3-2 defeat and ending its season Friday, May 16th.
While the Vikings came into the game after rolling to back-to-back victories over both Beverly Hills and Culver City, coach Rob Duron said they made sure not to look beyond their first-round playoff opponent.
“We approached this game like every other game,” said Duron, who took over as coach this season. “We didn’t look past anybody. It was one page at a time.”
Starting pitcher Tyler Skaggs, who finished with five strikeouts in six and a half innings, said the Vikings were hoping to carry their league momentum into the playoffs but acknowledged that his team underestimated the challenge of Diamond Ranch.
“I think maybe we took them a little lightly,” Skaggs said of the Panthers.
Santa Monica scored a run in both the second and third innings to take an early 2-0 lead, but Diamond Ranch battled back to tie the score with one run in the fourth and sixth innings. The Panthers then sent home the winning run in the top of the seventh inning, when senior Jericho Kelsey blasted an RBI (run batted in) double to right field.
Diamond Ranch managed to hold on for the key victory despite struggling against the Santa Monica defense in the first three innings. The Vikings stranded one Panther runner on base in the first inning and then got out of a bases loaded situation in the second when Logan Whitechurch threw out the Panther runner at first base.
Santa Monica loaded the bases with its first three batters in the bottom of the second, and after two batters struck out, Alex Kovacs stole home to give the Vikings their first score of the game.
The Vikings continued their strong defensive play in the third inning by halting a Panther runner on third base, allowing them to add another run in the bottom of the third.
Whitechurch, who got on base off an error by the Diamond Ranch shortstop, stole both second and third base to get in position to score. He then stole home to put Santa Monica ahead 2-0.
But the Panthers turned up their offense in the remaining innings, as junior Joel Licon hit a double to open the fourth and then stole home to give his team its first run. Sophomore Derek Goodwin then hit an RBI single to right field in the top of the sixth to tie the game.
After holding Santa Monica scoreless in the sixth, the Panthers jumped ahead in their next at-bat and relief pitcher Augusto Lanuza struck out three Viking batters in the final inning to give his team the win.
“They swung the bat really well,” said Duron, referring to how the Panthers were able to battle back. “We knew we needed to play good, solid defense, and they did a better job today than we did.”
Although the Vikings ended their season earlier than they hoped, Duron said the team put together a solid season in his first year back as coach.
“We did a real good job and put into effect the things we wanted to,” the coach said.
The Vikings finished the season with an overall record of 16-12.