Clutch Plays Lead Forest Hill To 8-3 Win Over Olympic Heights
Midway through the action on Wednesday night, Forest Hill manager Russ Milliken was looking for his team to find a spark and get things going. Knotted in a tie ball game with host Olympic Heights, the Falcons answered their skipper’s call to get the bats going and the defense, likewise, in tow. Forest Hill then opened things up and pulled away with an 8-3 victory.
Although the Falcons went ahead by stringing some nice offense together in the fourth, it was a few sparks on defense in the fourth that did the most to shift the momentum in their favor. Left fielder Carlos Diaz made a nice diving catch on a screamer to the left field corner, and, after Lions outfielder Adam Will followed with a base hit, the infielders then turned a smooth 5-6-3 double play for a 1-2-3 inning. From that point on it seemed like everything in the action went the Falcons’ way.
“Pitching and defense wins a lot of ball games, and if you get a ball into the air against our outfielders there is a good chance that you will be out,” Milliken said. “It’s amazing how it turns over from one side to the other. Just throw strikes, pound the zone and give your defense a chance to play. Even if you are not striking guys out, it is better to get a ground ball than to get a walk. It is hard to defense that walk. Our third baseman, Isaiah Nino, has done a real good for us over there, and our last two games we have played pretty good defense. That has been the difference throughout the year; when we play good defense we do OK, and when we don’t play good defense it’s a tough day.”
Forest Hill (9-10) won its second straight following a tough stretch of games previously. True to the very heart and beauty of the game, things could have gone entirely different for both teams if perhaps that ball had gotten past Diaz and helped get something started for the Lions.
“I was ready for it,” Diaz recalled of the play. “I didn’t really see it, I just saw the vicinity where it was hit to and I just ran to it. It is all about momentum, and whenever somebody makes a good play we all get on each other’s back.”
Diaz also had a nice day at the plate, reaching base three times while going 2-for-4 with a double and three runs. After connecting for a two-baser and then scoring the first run of the day on a balk in the opening frame, the senior was part of the offensive turning point in the fourth.
Anier Ricardo got things started in the fourth with a double to left, and he was already in motion when Diaz reached on an error two batters later that also allowed him to easily score. Diaz was also on the go in the hit-and-run when Walter Alston deposited a single into left field for another run. Alston stole second to set himself up in scoring position, and Samuel Delgado took care of the rest with an RBI single ripped up the middle.
Two innings later Forest Hill put some distance together with four more runs. Diaz laced a single to third, Carlos Fonseca doubled to center and Alston was intentionally walked for Olympic Heights’ starter Dominic Stagliano’s only walk of the night that loaded the bases with one out. Delgado reached on an error that plated Diaz and courtesy-runner Sammy Lehmkuhl, and Leonel Garcia followed with a soft liner into left field to drive in two more.
“The pitcher was throwing his curveballs and we really weren’t waiting back on it, so Coach said we had to make that adjustment and stay back and trust the hands,” Diaz said. “That is the main thing is to trust your hands, look up the middle and we’ll be all right.”
Stagliano put in a solid start to keep Olympic Heights (5-15) in the game. The freshman right-hander allowed three earned runs in five-and-a-third innings, scattering seven hits while striking out three.
After falling behind right out of the gates, the Lions manufactured a run without a base hit to even things right back up. Adam Will was hit by a pitch and Alec Mursuli walked, before a balk call advanced both runners into scoring position. Matthew Reichfield then lifted a fly ball to left field for a sac-fly RBI.
The Lions had solid at bats all night, with only two strikeouts. Reichfield was hit by a pitch, advanced into scoring position on a balk and scored on an RBI single from Cameron Baillargeon in the fifth, and Mursuli plated Nick Pompile with an RBI double in the sixth.
Olympic Heights was dogged with some costly errors, especially down the stretch. Manager Casey Beck admitted that it is a bad habit the team continues to work to move on from.
“We need to learn to play seven innings instead of five,” Beck said. “Since I’ve been here it’s like we play for five innings and either hang in there, have the lead or are tied, and it has been very frustrating. I thought that this was the year and I hope we still get it together. We’ve got West Boca one more time and we look forward to still salvage the season. I haven’t given up and I know my kids have not given up, but if I am going to lose it will be with kids giving me effort. That’s where we’re at right now, to just keep working hard because the season isn’t over.”
With the playoffs nearing, Forest Hill also used the contest to fine-tune the pitching. Starter Victor Ortiz put in a quality start to earn the win, fanning one while surrendering two earned runs on two hits, a walk and two hit batsmen in five innings. Jason Troncoso then closed things out with two solid relief frames, allowing an unearned run on two hits while recording one strikeout.
“We’ve been trying to get these guys moved up a little bit, as far as things are concerned here at the end,” Milliken said. “We really liked what Jason Troncoso did tonight. Victor came out, I don’t think he threw his best, but we call it ‘bulldogging it’, and he kept that up all night long and kept us in the game. If you can do that, you’ll go out there and compete.”