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California dreamin' ... back to finals

Jim Ference | The Valley Independent
California's Louden Conte gets set to slide into home as Sewickley Academy's Derrick Littlefield looks for the throw. Conte is safe at home in the1st inning on Monday, May 19, 2014. During the semifinal WPIAL Class A playoffs at Washington and Jefferson Collage Ross Memorial Field.

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Donnie Tasser
Tuesday, May 20, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

California Area's offense rebounded and in a big way.

Just four days after recording just three hits and two runs in a quarterfinal win over North Catholic, the Trojans clinched a PIAA tournament berth and advanced to the WPIAL Class A baseball title game with a dominating 16-5 6-inning win over Sewickley Academy at Washington & Jefferson's Ross Memorial Park.

“We had a very solid group of guys coming into this year,” first year California coach Nick Damico said. “But I couldn't be more proud of these kids. This is what you work for all season; every game leads up to that championship game.”

California (19-0) needed just four batters to match their hit and run totals from the previous game, sending nine batters to the plate in the first inning - scoring three times - before a seven run second inning that saw seven runs and 11 Trojan players bat.

“I couldn't even tell you what we did differently from that last game to today,” Damico said. “I think last week we were trying to hit too many home runs. With this fast turf, ground balls are dangerous and today we hit a lot more line drives and ground balls up the middle.”

Catcher Jake Columbus went 5-for-5 on the day with a double and two runs batted in, while center fielder Aaron Previsky added three hits, including a triple and double, with an RBI. Ron Baron, Louden Conte, Mike Luketich and Casey Zajicek each had two hits, while Baron drove in three runs.

“Jake is normally our five hitter, but after last week I shuffled the lineup a bit and put him up top to give us a spark,” Damico said. “And he did exactly that. This was the best game I ever saw him play.”

The Trojans singled SA starting pitcher Sam Duerr out of the game, collecting seven off of him in the 1 13 innings that he pitched. Columbus led off the game with a single and scored on Conte's single after stealing second base. Conte also stole second and scored on Baron's single, and Baron scored on Josh Luko's single.

In the second, Zajicek drove in two with yet another single and scored on Columbus' third hit in the first two innings. The Trojans also plated two runs on wild pitches and one when Luko was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.

California added another run in each the third and fourth innings off of Drew Johnson, but SA (10-6) began to claw their way back into the game. After scoring one in the first, they plated three runs in the third, including two off of wild pitches, chasing Luko, who was coming off of his fourth shutout of the season.

“We almost didn't start Josh because he wasn't on his normal rest,” Damico said. “Thankfully we were able to get the runs we needed and were able to get him out of the game. He should be well rested for the championship game, which will either be (May 27 or 28).”

SA added another run in the fourth off of Garrit Woodburn, before freshman Nathaniel Luketich came in and pitched the final 2 13 innings. Luko gave up four runs on six hits, striking out four, in three innings of work, while Luketich gave up three hits and no runs, finishing the game as the Trojans used doubles by Columbus, Previsky and Baron in the sixth inning to score four runs and trigger the 10-run mercy rule.

For SA, Johnson had three hits while Duerr and John Nagel each had two.

“We just need to keep playing like we have all year,” Damico said. “Today we didn't necessarily get the pitching or defense that we wanted, but we hit the ball. Last week, it was the opposite. That's baseball.

“Next week we just need to show up and play and not worry about anything else.”

Donnie Tasser is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media..

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