RATES       _______________________________ LM __________________________________

Algra, Valley Christian in better control of Olympic League, ease past Maranatha


By Loren Kopff


For Dylan Algra, the second time pitching against Maranatha this season was better than the first. But it was also the same in terms of who came out on the winning side.

The senior ace of Valley Christian’s pitching staff pitched seven strong innings, scattering five hits and yielding one earned run as the Crusaders knocked off the visiting Minutemen 7-3 this past Tuesday. It was the second time this season Algra has gone the distance against Maranatha. On Mar. 20, he gave up five unearned runs in the bottom of the first but settled down and watched his team rally for a 7-6 victory.

But in the second meeting with the Minutemen this season, he struck out a pair in the top of the first, then saw his offense score a pair of runs in the first and second innings respectively. In fact, Algra helped himself at the plate, going two for four with three runs batted in.

“I just feel like we’re coming together as a team for sure,” Algra said. “We’re doing the little things right, so it’s easier to pitch behind getting the runs early in the game. Our offense and defense are solid right now.”

“I told the guys that if you give him four runs, I like our chances against anybody, honestly,” said V.C. first-year head coach Erick Streelman. “I’m talking anybody; Mayfair, Lakewood. It doesn’t matter because he can get anybody out.”

V.C. improved to 11-9 overall and remained the lone undefeated team in the Olympic League at 7-0. The Crusaders moved two games ahead of Maranatha with five to play and hold the tiebreaker over the Minutemen. The worst the Crusaders can do is third place in the league as both Los Angeles Baptist and Whittier Christian have six league losses.

“I think the turning point in our season was the sixth inning at Maranatha [on Mar. 20] when we came back and got that win because we knew that we beat them on their field and we have to play them twice here,” Streelman said. “Now it gives us an advantage because they have to ride an hour and a half home and think about it and they have to come back again on Thursday to the exact same place where they just lost. That’s a tough thing psychologically.”

In the bottom of the first, senior center fielder Brian Burgin singled and junior shortstop Patrick Avila was hit by a pitch. Algra then roped a base hit to left to make it 1-0 and a sacrifice fly from junior first baseman Clayton Granch plated Avila, who scored from second on the play.

In the next frame, junior third baseman Connor Buckley singled, stole a pair of bases and scored on a sacrifice fly from sophomore second baseman Cody McKittrick. Four pitches later, Avila singled in junior right fielder Nico Morandini, who had struck out but was safe on a wild pitch.

That was more than enough for Algra (5-2, 1.67 earned run average), who has thrown five complete games in his eight starts this season. But after a relatively easy first three innings, the Minutemen got to Algra in the fourth. Josh Marrs was safe on an error and two batters later, Peter Haggstrom was safe on a fielder’s choice. That was followed by a two-run double from Ryan Marrs.

“He has such high standards for himself that he tries to be a little too fine whereas most high school pitchers settle for throwing strikes,” Streelman said. “He wants to throw strikes at the corners. He wants to throw strikes at the knees or right on the hands. But when he isn’t too fine and he lets his defense play, then he’s very tough because his ball moves all over the place and you can’t hit it.”

“I think it just started with a hit and it got rolling [for Maranatha],” Algra said. “I know I had a couple of walks in there. I didn’t really help myself out too much.

“Our defense kept [Maranatha] down,” he later added. “They weren’t getting any balls through. Our defense was solid.”

But Algra regrouped and retired seven of the next eight batters, striking out three in that stretch. The V.C. offense also gave Algra some breathing room in the bottom of the fourth. Senior pinch hitter Shane Stillwagon put down a bunt in front of the pitcher’s mound and was safe at first. After stealing a pair of bases, he came home on a suicide squeeze bunt from Burgin, who went to second on an error on the same play. Avila was hit by a pitch before Algra tripled to the right field corner, plating Burgin and Avila. Burgin also had a pair of hits for the Crusaders, who have already equaled their league victory total of last season. The team is looking for its first league crown since 2006 and one more league victory will be the most since 2002. V.C. will host Whittier Christian on Tuesday in the first of the home and home series with the Heralds before taking a week off from league play.

“We set that as our goal, to win a league championship,” Streelman said. “Our goal as a coaching staff was to get us to that point. We weren’t ready that first day [of the season] when we played Gahr to compete at that level. But we’re getting there and we’re getting better.”




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