By RICHARD J. MARCUS
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
In Casa Grande’s opening game of the North Bay League on Wednesday, the Gauchos relied on a timely double in the first inning, strong starting pitching and solid defense to ring up a hard-fought 3-2 win at Maria Carrillo.
It was the second win for Casa Grande (10-1, 1-0) over Maria Carrillo (7-4, 0-2) in less than a week as the Gauchos defeated the Pumas 8-1 in the Adam Wescott Tournament at Casa Grande last Friday.
“To beat the same team twice in five days is a hard thing to do,” Casa Grande coach Paul Maytorena said. “This was a quality win against a very good team.”
Casa Grande jumped on Maria Carrillo starter Alec Rennard (4-2) in the first inning. Francis Christy led off with a double for the Gauchos followed by a walk and an intentional walk to load the bases with one out. Nate Bills then crushed an opposite-field double to right-center on an 0-2 pitch to plate two runs for a 2-0 Casa Grande lead.
“It was a fastball right down the middle of the plate, belt-high. I just made sure I didn’t drop my hands,” Bills said of the Rennard offering. “I was expecting a fastball low and away or a curveball in the dirt.”
“Bills’ hit was huge,” Maytorena said. “We got the early lead which is what I wanted to do.”
Rennard recovered and stranded runners at second and third to end the first inning and went on to pitch five scoreless innings after that. He pitched six innings, surrendering the two runs on four hits and six strikeouts.
“Other than the first inning it was a quality start for (Rennard),” Maria Carrillo coach Derek DeBenedetti said. “I’ve got to give Casa (hitters) credit, they were patient but aggressive.”
On the flip side, Casa Grande starter Anthony Bender (3-0) kept the Pumas at bay for four-plus innings, giving up one run and two hits.
“Everything was going good and I thought I was hitting my spots really well,” Bender said. “Pitching with a lead coming out of the first inning helped so I could just throw strikes.”
Bender gave up a single to Wille Brede to start the fifth inning and was lifted for reliever Eric Parnow. Two batters later Brede scored on a single by Andrew Vaughn to cut the Gauchos lead to 2-1.
The Gauchos added an unearned insurance run in the seventh after a throwing error by the Gauchos third baseman on the back-end of an attempted double play.
“We made two mistakes today. We threw an 0-2 fastball down the middle of the plate and we had the throwing error in the sixth inning. That’s three runs on two mistakes,” DeBenedetti said. “If we don’t make those mistakes we win that game.”
Trailing 3-1 going into the bottom of the seventh, Clayton Pool reached first on a Gauchos fielding error at shortstop. Pool stole second and eventually scored on a bunt groundout by Clayton Andrews. With two out and the bases empty, Parnow walked two batters before inducing Jake Scheiner to strike out for the 3-2 Casa Grande victory.
“Parnow knows his zone and he has got good stuff,” Mayorena said.
Christy, Casa Grande’s catcher, had a superb day behind the dish, throwing out two Maria Carrillo baserunners — one on a steal attempt of second base and the other on a crucial pick-off at first base in the Pumas’ sixth inning. Christy should have had another attempted stealer thrown out at second base but the ball was dropped on the tag attempt by the Gauchos infielder.
“Their catcher (Christy) is as good as it gets in this area,” DeBenedetti said. “You have got to be on your toes the whole time you are out there (on the bases) or he will back-pick you.”
The Pumas can take small solace that the rematch with the Gauchos was much tighter than the first meeting, a seven-run Maria Carrillo defeat.
“All loses are tough but this one I will be able to swallow a little bit better,” DeBenedetti said.