By Patrick Dillon @PDillon_SGN
EXETER – The Monarchs’ defense got off to a great start at the Visalia Tournament Small School title. On the first day Exeter squeezed by the Independence Falcons, 4-1, and out slugged the Bakersfield Christian Eagles, 11-9.
“Luckily we came out hitting today,” Exeter head coach Kevin Kirkman said. “We are 2-0 in the tournament, and I feel good about our next two games.”
Exeter (14-7, 4-4) had to fight back from an early 4-1 deficit in the bottom of the first inning. With bases loaded, Sal Briones came up to bat. The senior outfielder took the first pitch he saw and put it over the right field fence for a grand slam. The homer gave Exeter their first lead of the game 5-4.
“I was hyped up, and happy that I could produce and do something for my team,” Briones said.
According to Kirkman, Briones had been struggling recently. Before his home run, he only had two hits in the last seven games.
Briones’ long ball foretold what the rest of the game held for both teams. There were four lead changes in the game as neither team relented.
It wasn’t until the bottom of the fourth inning that Exeter took the lead for good. Preston Wiley hit a hard ground ball toward Bakersfield Christian’s (9-12, 6-5) second base. The infielder was unable to handle the ball which allowed Jaykob Acosta to score.
The game winning run came in the bottom of the sixth, and was also off Wiley’s bat. This time with the bases, he hit another ground ball to the same spot, and again the fielder was not able to handle the ball. The second of many errors by that position in the Eagles’ infield allowed two Monarchs to score, making it 11-7.
Exeter did have a slight scare in the top of the seventh as they tried to close out the game. Bakersfield Christian led off with a double to left- center field. That was followed by another hit and two walks which loaded the bases.
The Eagles were able to get a couple of those runs across to close their deficit to two, but an interference call at second, and a force out at first gave Exeter the two outs they needed.
In Exeter’s first game of the tournament they were able to overcome a slow start against Independence (8-13, 7-4). Exeter scored a pair of runs in the third and sixth innings, and had six total hits in the game.
Going forward, Kirkman is low on pitchers. Blake Crookshanks was supposed to have started on Tuesday, April 16, against Golden Valley Bulldogs. Results were reached after press time. However, an injury to the pinky on his throwing hand might have sidelined him.
“Anyone who can lift their right arm will be pitching the next two days,” Kirkman said.
Exeter will wrap-up group play today against the Mission Oak Hawks at home at 1 p.m. If Exeter remains unbeaten they will stand a good chance at defending their small school title for the first time.