LOS ANGELES -- Similar to most good, disciplined hitters, Zack Rivera was merely attempting to make some all-important contact. Mission accomplished.
The junior for the Irvine Beckman baseball team belted a two-run homer in the bottom of the first inning of Thursday's Southern Section Division 3 championship game at Dodger Stadium and the blast proved to be the difference in a 4-1 victory over Irvine Woodbridge.
“Bat to ball, that's the only thing I was thinking, find a pitch to drive,'' Rivera said. “When I hit the ball, I knew I got a hold of it. Dodger Stadium is a big park though, and for a minute, I thought the ball was going into foul territory. Everything was in slow motion, then it cleared the fence. It was one of those moments every baseball player thinks about at some point.''
The sequence nearly did not materialize for Beckman (25-6).
Ben Wylly, the starter for Woodbridge (19-12), retired the first two batters that he faced. Justin Hazard, however, reached base on an error to keep the inning alive and set the stage for Rivera. He stepped into the batters box, of course, and drilled the ball down the left-field line, just over 330 sign into the empty seats, to give the Patriots a 2-0 lead heading into the second inning.
“That homerun was one of those no-doubters,'' Beckman coach Kevin Lavalle said. “It was gone, out of Dodger Stadium. It would've been a homer at our field and a homer at Woodbridge's field too. Once we got the lead, there was no way we were going to lose this game.''
Give the Warriors credit, with little or no momentum early on, they did not give up. Woodbridge rallied in the top of the second, in fact. Matt Budgell led off with a single, and promptly, stole second base. He scored on a Sam Lemmon basehit to cut the lead in half, 2-1.
Hazard's hustling style of play led to another run in the bottom half of the third inning. He beat out an infield grounder, sliding head first at first base. Connor Deneen, who led off with a single, ended up scoring on the play to increase the advantage to 3-1.
The lead proved to be more than enough for James Kaprielian. The ace for Beckman went the distance, giving up four hits and striking out seven batters.
“I was a little nervous in the beginning, but after Zack hit that clutch home run, I relaxed, I think we all started to relax,'' Kaprielian said. “Once the third inning rolled around, I shook things off, settled down and started throwing some strikes. I was in the zone.''
Making matters worse for the Warriors was the fact that they lost to Rivera and Beckman, a Pacific Coast League rival, for the fourth time this season.
“I was a worried before the game,'' Lavalle said. “I didn't want to have to break out my speech about how tough it is to beat a team three, or four, times in one year.
"Thankfully, there were no letdowns. Zack did not have a letdown. James did not have a letdown. None of our kids had a letdown out there today. You know, if you can't get up for a title game at Dodger Stadium on June 2, you don't belong in games like this one.''