NBL baseball: Casa defeats Rancho, 6-0, for 21st straight win

Casa Grande's Anthony Bender hits a triple to left field during the Gauchos' 6-0 win over Rancho Cotati in Rohnert Park on Friday, May 3, 2013. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

Casa Grande’s Anthony Bender hits a triple to left field during the Gauchos’ 6-0 win over Rancho Cotati in Rohnert Park on Friday, May 3, 2013. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)


ROHNERT PARK — Two fly balls were the difference in Friday’s baseball match-up between North Bay League regular-season champion Casa Grande and host Rancho Cotate.

The balls in question were hit by Casa Grande (21-1, 12-0) in the second inning and both should have been caught by Rancho (12-10, 7-5) outfielders but fell to the turf on defensive blunders. The result was four unearned runs for the Gauchos in the inning en route to a 6-0 win to keep Casa’s NBL season unblemished.

Casa — with a 21-game winning streak and ranked first in Division II baseball in California by Cal-Hi Sports — is mowing down opponents with pitching, giving up only four runs in the last seven games.

“We try to pride ourselves on pitching and defense,” Casa coach Paul Maytorena said. “We have got the league won already so we just want to keep everybody healthy and get guys (bench players) in there. We want to keep our heads in the game.”

Anthony Bender pitched five scoreless innings for the Gauchos’ victory.

“Our pitching has been ridiculous this year. All of our pitchers are really good,” Bender said. “I hope we keep this up and stay strong until the end (of the post-season).”

With the game scoreless in the top of the second inning Rancho starter Will Felton gave up three singles and a bases-loaded walk for a run. With two outs Casa’s Francis Christy hit a high fly to the warning track that Rancho’s right fielder dropped, resulting in a Gauchos run. Bender then hit a fly towards the right-center-field power alley.

There appeared to be a miscommunication between Rancho outfielders as the ball was closest to the right fielder for a relatively routine fly out, but the center fielder ended up running a longer distance in an unsuccessful attempt to catch the ball. Three runs came home on the play that was charitably scored a hit.

“Both those balls should have been caught. Those guys are better than that. They are both seniors,” Rancho coach John Morrow said. “The game could have been completely different if we caught those balls.”

“We got some breaks, yeah,” Maytorena said. “But I’m glad to see we are starting to hit the ball better.”

Bender was not dominant, giving up leadoff singles to Cougar batters in the middle innings but he didn’t allow Rancho to turn those hits into rallies.

“Bender was pitching OK but he didn’t have his best stuff. He was hittable today,” Morrow said. “We had four innings (third through sixth) in a row where we led off with base hits and couldn’t do anything with it. We couldn’t string together anything (on offense).”

Given the 5-0 lead early, Bender had the cushion to tinker with his curve ball to be his punch-out pitch after relying on his fastball early.

“My fastball was working for me in the beginning,” Bender said. “Later on in the game my curveball was really breaking. My off-speed stuff was working.”

“Bender was solid but he didn’t have his best stuff,” Maytorena said. “It took him three innings to get comfortable out there.”

Meanwhile, Rancho’s Felton didn’t make it out of the fourth inning after giving up another Casa run for a 6-0 deficit. Reliever Nate Crouse came in and pitched three-plus scoreless innings to close out the game without further damage by Casa hitters.

“Felton wasn’t locating and he got behind in the count the whole time,” Morrow said. “Krause did a real nice job coming in and throwing 3« innings. It was the longest and best he has pitched all year.”

Rancho came into the game tied with three other teams for second place. With only a pair of games to go in the regular season the pressure will be on the Cougars to qualify for the upcoming NBL post-season tournament (the top four teams qualify).

“We probably dropped to fifth place right now with this loss,” Morrow said. “We have to take care of our own destiny. We have to win our last two games.”

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