NEWPORT COAST — The first thing that caught the eye of Coach Gabriel Reyes when he and his Panorama City St. Genevieve team arrived at Sage Hill was the high school baseball field.
"We don't get [to see] these type of baseball fields in the [San Fernando Valley]," said Reyes, while marveling at the manicured infield, the trimmed outfield grass and the 12-foot fence around it, and the batting cage behind the visitors' dugout.
While St. Genevieve had never played on a field as nice as Sage Hill's, the host school had never seen a pitcher quite like the one it faced Tuesday.
St. Genevieve started a kid with a sidearm delivery. His name was Gonzalo Rios and he almost became the first pitcher to shut out the Lightning this year.
Rios' teammates call him "Gonzo." His release was almost as weird as the "Gonzo the Great" character from The Muppets.
"Gonzo" was definitely great against the Lightning. He threw a complete game, striking out 11, as St. Genevieve won, 5-1, in the wild-card round of the CIF Southern Section Division 6 playoffs.
Reyes said the postseason victory is the first for St. Genevieve in more than 30 years. A sophomore with a submarine release made it possible.
Reyes said the reason why Rios cannot throw overhand is because he broke his collarbone last year. The sidearm delivery works for the right-hander.
Rios fooled the young Lightning (13-7) throughout, throwing fastballs, changeups and sliders for strikes. He allowed five hits, walked one and hit a batter.
Rios, who threw 104 pitches, is the reason why St. Genevieve (8-7) gets to play at defending section champion Lancaster Desert Christian (13-5) in the first round on Friday and why Sage Hill's season ended.
"We haven't seen anybody drop down like that, from that arm angle, a lot of movement [on his pitches]," Sage Hill Coach Danny Gonzales said.
"When that guy started throwing like that, from the beginning of the game, I was telling our guys, 'See it up, see it up, see it up," because that two-seam runs down and dirty, especially for our right-handers, and for our lefties, it was going down and away."
The only batter to hit Rios (5-2) well was Ryan Fishel. The senior leadoff man tripled in the third inning and doubled in the fifth, but each time Sage Hill stranded him in scoring position.
The Lightning left one runner in scoring position in the second and third innings, two in the fifth, and the offense didn't do much with the bases loaded in the sixth. Each time, Rios got out of trouble by inducing a groundball or recording a strikeout.
The only run Sage Hill scored off Rios was because he plunked Chris Goul with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth. With the bases still jammed, Rios mowed down the next two batters, the No. 8 and 9 hitters, to escape Sage Hill's biggest threat.
"We weren't able to capitalize," Gonzales said. "We always preach doing the little things right. We got a man on third base [with] one out [in the third inning], and we'll get a strikeout, instead of shortening up [the bat to] put the ball in play and score that run. We had a situation, second and third [in the fifth with] two outs [and we] just couldn't come up with that quality at-bat. We had a little roll over [grounder to first base]."
Sage Hill found itself playing from behind in the second inning.
Forty pitches are all starter Parker Reposa threw. That was all Gonzales needed to see to pull his ace. Reposa (6-2) exited after 1 1/3 innings because of control issues — three walks.
Sage Hill replaced the sophomore with his battery mate, Kellen Ochi. The catcher looked ready. When he caught, he fired the ball back to Reposa after every pitch.
On the mound, Ochi threw just as hard. He struck out the first batter he faced. Then the next two batters made contact and the visitors jumped out to a 4-0 lead.