LONG BEACH -- The ball kept rolling, so Evan Perez kept running. Past second, wildly around third and, finally, to home plate.
The senior's dizzying, inside-the-park homer keyed J.W. North's explosive first inning in a 10-4 win Tuesday against Lakewood in a CIF-Southern Section Division 1 semifinal game. The Huskies moved on to Friday night's championship game at Dodger Stadium.
"My coach kept waving me in and I kept going," Perez said. "I wasn't going to stop."
North (26-7) had already scored three by the time Perez, the No. 7 hitter, stepped into the batter's box in the first inning. He launched a liner to the right-center field gap and the ball zipped past the outstretched glove of Lakewood's Tyler Leidholdt. It rolled and rolled, all the way to the wall, until it came to rest some 400 feet from home. The notoriously spacious grounds at Long Beach State's Blair Field were unforgiving.
"It was huge," North head coach Steve Madril said. "Against a team like Lakewood, every game is going to be close. For us to be up five runs and for them to make a couple of errors? Lakewood never makes errors. They're always so fundamental."
Lakewood (29-5-1) chipped away at the five-run deficit, scoring two in the second and one in the third. But North responded with a pair in the fourth, one in the sixth and two in the seventh. The Lancers had beaten North, 4-3, in the Anaheim Lions Tournament in early April. They were one of the hotter teams in the state after upsetting top-seeded Huntington Beach Edison, 3-1, at home last Friday.
"You can't give up five runs in the first to a team like this," Lakewood coach Spud O'Neil said. "North is very, very good. We didn't play well."
North, which shared the Big VIII League title with Riverside King, has not experienced much trouble in the playoffs. The Huskies won their three games by a combined score of 17-3. Second baseman Adrian Anguiano led the way Tuesday, going 3-for-5 with two RBIs.
"I love this team," said North pitcher Jack Johnson, who started and went six innings. "I love my players. I knew we could do it and now we've only got one game left."