Santa Monica High School sophomore Dylan Early hadn’t played the way he wanted through all of the baseball game against Lompoc High School, but that all changed with a swing of the bat in the seventh inning.
Early stepped up to the plate with the score tied 6-6 and two of his teammates on base, and he knew what he had to do.
The sophomore took the pitch he liked and drove the ball up the middle of the field, sending home senior catcher Cody Decker for the 7-6 victory at home Thursday, May 19th.
Not only was it a game-winning RBI (run batted in) for Early, but it gave the Vikings (20-9) a first-round win in the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Southern Section Division IV playoffs.
“The whole game I hadn’t been myself and I knew I had to come through right there,” Early said of his game-winning hit. “It was a heck of a feeling.
“It happened once before but never in a playoff game.”
With the first-round win over the Lompoc Braves (17-11), the Vikings picked up their fifth consecutive victory and continued their impressive run in the latter part of the season.
Before entering the playoffs, Santa Monica went an undefeated 10-0 in Ocean League play and captured the league championship, a main goal for the team this season.
Santa Monica lost 8-7 to El Segundo High School in the second round Tuesday, May 24th. While Santa Monica was riding high into the first game of the playoffs, the team faced a close challenge from Lompoc, which made the victory even more significant.
“It was huge to get the first victory,” Vikings coach Kevin Brockway said.
Santa Monica faced a battle with Lompoc right from the start, as the Braves jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning with back-to-back RBI singles by juniors Joey Green and Sam Ruiz.
The Viking offense began the first inning with two outs, but all it took was one pitch for Decker to blast his 11th home run of the season over the left field wall for a 2-1 score. Decker, who finished with three runs scored, is now tied with the home run leaders of the Southern Section.
The Santa Monica defense applied pressure to the Lompoc batters all through the game and came up with big stops, including a double play by the Vikings to end the second inning.
“We’ve played good defense all year and that’s what the team is based on,” Brockway said.
A hit up the middle of the field by senior Ryan Rodriguez in the second inning sent home junior Milan Depillars for a 2-2 score.
The Vikings made another key defensive stop that prevented any Lompoc runs in the third inning, and then loaded the bases on offense on the way to scoring three runs, including a two-run single by Depillars.
Lompoc got into more trouble when senior starting pitcher J.D. Aguilar walked two Viking batters early in the fifth inning. Aguilar was replaced by junior James Root, who allowed Santa Monica to take a 6-2 lead on a walk by Early.
But the Braves were hungry for a comeback on offense in the sixth inning and began to wear down Viking starting pitcher Michael Walsh. Lompoc narrowed its deficit to 6-4 with RBIs by Johnathon Terrones and Tryrell Coleman.
Walsh then loaded the bases and was replaced by senior Justin Cooper, but Lompoc still managed to add two more runs and tie the game at 6-6.
“We struggled with throwing strikes and they were able to put a couple of runs on the board,” Early said of the Lompoc rally.
“We had a little control problem in the sixth inning, but Justin Cooper came in and did a great job,” Brockway said.
Cooper’s clutch pitching performance with two strikeouts to end the seventh inning kept Lompoc from doing any more damage, and allowed the Vikings to do their job in their last at-bat.
Two intentional walks by Lompoc in the seventh inning proved to be game-ending mistakes, as Early got up to bat for the Santa Monica playoff victory.
The Vikings finished with five hits in the game and Lompoc had 12 hits.