Valley Christian looks for repeat in D7 baseball

Lions meet Brookside for second straight year
By: Kurt Johnson, The Press Tribune
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If it hopes to repeat as Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII baseball champion Valley Christian Academy will need to duplicate what it accomplished one year ago at this time. The Lions have arrived at the section title game to find last year’s opponent, Brookside Christian of Stockton, looking for revenge. Valley Christian won that meeting 11-1 in six innings, but Brad Gunter, the head coach at VCA, is certain that this season’s matchup will be much more competitive. “Brookside was in the old SVCL league with us a four years ago,” Gunter said, “but the make-up of their team is much better now, and they now have a new coach. They won the section title just two years ago and they are much improved and very confident this season since we faced them last year in the title game.” With pitchers fully rested and ace right-hander Ryan Cordell ready to take the mound, Valley Christian seems to have an advantage on the bump. “It is his game to win,” Gunter said, speaking of Cordell. “We will have everybody ready out of the bullpen, but our fate really is in his hands. The good thing is that he wants the ball in the big game.” While the Lions gain much of their offensive advantage with the long ball, the Knights rely on small ball and their ability to manufacture runs. Junior Casas leads a VCA attack that has blasted 28 home runs in 28 game with six long balls, but Cordell (five), Donovan Allen (four), David Risucci (three), Paul Finnell (three) and Gabe Miramontes (three) have all provided major pop for Valley Christian. “We have to execute on the base paths once we get on and we have to come up with the big clutch hits, especially the two out RBI hits,” Gunter said. Brookside puts the ball in play and creates opportunities when they present themselves. Their leading hitter, David Hamlett, is hitting .610 with 11 doubles, 10 triples and 34 RBIs. “They are very quick and athletic,” Gunter said. “They are aggressive on the base paths and take the extra 90 feet on every missed cutoff man or bobble. Brookside has gap-to-gap power throughout their lineup, with also the capability to play small ball when necessary.” The Knights are deep in pitching, and have a team ERA of 3.13. Gunter expects to see Hamlett, but Brendan Burns (5-2, 2.55) and Alex Lee (4-2, 2.65) could also figure in the outcome. Whichever hurler takes the ball for Brookside, Gunter is confident that his ace holds the cards in the pitcher’s duel that he anticipates. Cordell (8-2, 0.76 ERA, 90 strikeouts, nine walks in 55 innings) has posted impressive stats in this, his junior year, and he has caught the attention of college scouts. “There is no doubt that when we have Cordell on the mound, he has been such a competitor for us, that we have a great chance to win no matter who the opponent has been,” Gunter said. “The big thing for us though is that we must play great defense. In his only two losses of the year, we had crucial errors behind him.” Risucci is another key player for Gunter. The Lions’ catcher is a solid backstop and could be a key contributor if needed out of the Valley Christian bullpen. The senior was the starting pitcher in last year’s title game win over Brookside. “He (Risucci) is the key to shutting down their running game and we are asking him to be at the top of his game on Monday,” Gunter said. “ He has had to do everything for us this season. The big weapon for us will be his ability to reach base offensively. He is the table setter for the rest of the lineup.” The title game is set for noon Monday at Tony Zupo Field in Lodi.