By Rick Assad
If Gunnar Nichols doesn’t have a nickname, it should be Mr. Cool.
Unflappable and poised also define the Burroughs High senior right-handed pitcher who blanked Village Christian 2-0 over seven innings in a CIF Southern Section Division V first-round playoff game at Tomahawk Field on Friday afternoon.
With the stands once again filled to capacity, the Bears, who have a second-round road match against Orange (18-10-1 and 12-3 for first place in the Orange Coast League) on Tuesday at 3:15 p.m., used timely hitting, stout defense and superb pitching, which is a tried-and-true formula.
Nichols, who has fashioned a 7-2 record on the hill, yielded three hits and buzzed through the first four innings without allowing a hit.
Over that stretch, Nichols fanned six batters and finished with nine which increased his total to 86 for the season.
“I’ve been good at blocking out all the distractions and just focusing on my job to throw strikes and get the batters out, and no matter the situation I always give it my all and do my best,” said Nichols, who lowered his earned-run average to 1.09 over 64 and one-third innings.
Nichols talked about what he was trying to do on the mound.
“I tried just keeping them off balance with the curveball and even if it wasn’t a strike necessarily, it was changing what they were looking for when they were hitting,” he said.
Nichols allowed his only walk of the game to the first hitter the Crusaders (11-16 overall and 6-6 for third in the Olympic League) brought to the plate.
The runner advanced to second base on a steal, but Nichols then collected three straight outs including two swinging strikeouts.
After the walk, Nichols retired the next 13 batters he faced before senior Evan Kang dropped a base hit into left field.
Kang raced to second and third base and tried to score the tying run on a double by the next batter but was tagged out at the plate by senior catcher Mason Medina who took the throw from sophomore left fielder Mason Mahay to junior shortstop Steven Suarez.
“Mason’s a three-year varsity unanimous captain,” Burroughs coach Matt Magallon said of his gifted catcher. “He’s the leader of our program and has caught 95 percent of our games. He’s handled all our pitchers. He’s a future Burroughs Hall of Famer.”
The only other hit Nichols allowed was a one-out double to center field in the seventh inning.
Nichols then fanned junior Conner Loke swinging and saw Kang lift a fly ball to left field.
“I thought that was a fantastic pitching performance,” Magallon said. “I thought Lim’s [Ceballos] hit was absolutely clutch, and I thought overall a great day by Mahay.”
Despite Village Christian having a losing record overall, Magallon knew the game wasn’t going to be a walk in the park.
“We knew they were going to be tough and I’m just glad we came up with this win,” he said. “The difference is our guys on offense get out but they’re not easy outs, they’re tough outs, They’re productive, quality at-bats.”
That Nichols shined in a playoff game only reinforced what Magallon feels about his senior who will play baseball at Pepperdine.
“He’s the most poised young man I’ve ever coached and I’m glad he’s on our team,” he noted.
The Bears (18-10 in all games and 11-3 for second in the Pacific League) squeezed out two runs on just three hits but they came at the right time.
In the bottom of the second inning, six batters advanced to the plate as Medina spanked a ball to center field and senior Bailey Ewan struck out swinging.
Then Ceballos, a senior, drew a walk and the next batter, junior Nick Forrest, hit a sun-double to left center.
When Mahay was safe on an error, the Bears moved ahead 1-0.
The other run didn’t score until the sixth inning as Ceballos laced a hard-hit base hit to center field with two out.
Junior Sebastian Zamora led off with a walk, went to second when Medina was thrown out by the catcher and third base when Ewan grounded to shortstop.
Nichols set down the side in the second inning all on grounders and went 1-2-3 in the third as he induced a pair of ground outs and a swinging strikeout.
Nichols blitzed through the fourth frame as he struck out the side including two swinging.
In the sixth inning, Nichols fanned the first batter on a called strike and induced a grounder and a fly ball.