By Rick Assad
On a big stage and with the lights shining bright, pitcher Nick Forrest delivered a divine performance.
Facing 24 batters or three over the minimum for seven innings, the talented right-hander yielded one hit, striking out 14 and walking one en route to a 2-1 Pacific League win over longtime rival Burbank Friday night at an overflow and enthusiastic crowd at Tomahawk Field.
The Bulldogs, who took the first inter-city battle 2-1 in nine innings just three days earlier, nicked Forrest for their only run in the first inning.
Senior Wyatt LaMarsna walked to open up the proceedings and scored on senior Jose Avellaneda’s sizzling triple.
Avellaneda stayed put as Forrest fanned senior Jared Cantu swinging and junior Jimmy Cafferty on a called third strike.
The inning came to a close when senior Danny Betancourt grounded to second base.
“After that first inning, as long as you get the jitters out it’s just cruising,” Forrest said of that first frame. “I saw the crowd. You get a little nervous but otherwise you trust your arm and you trust your pitches.”
Forrest knew what he wanted to keep it going.
“I think I was dialed in. I felt amazing,” he said. “Throwing strikes and getting them to swing at bad balls, it felt so good and with the crowd helping me out, it felt amazing.”
The Bulldogs (15-8 and 10-4 for third place in league) are deep and talented and came within a whisper of tying the game in the seventh inning when they had Bentancourt reach on a walk and then took second base on a steal.
In what was clearly a tense moment, Forrest struck out senior Josh DiPietro looking to seal the contest.
The Bears (17-10 and 11-3 for second place in league) evened it at 1-1 in the bottom of the first when leadoff hitter Nate Chapman (two hits) lined a hard-hit double.
The speedy Chapman, a sophomore, raced to third base on a passed ball and found the plate two batters later when junior Sebastian Zamora lifted a sacrifice fly.
“It was a great series. I think we settled our emotions. It’s two years in a row Nick’s thrown in one of the biggest games of the year, here on Senior Night as a sophomore he had 12 strikeouts, as a junior he has 14 strikeouts,” Burroughs coach Matt Magallon said. “He’s just built for the moment. He always has that rocky first inning. He just grinds his way through. He’s just dominating this year. In my opinion, he’s the MVP of the league and I think our team feels very comfortable with him on the mound.”
Five batters found their way to the batter’s box in the third inning for the Bears including Zamora, who blasted a one-out double to right field that scored senior Andrew Chapman, who was safe on a force out and then stole second base.
It could have been a 3-1 advantage when senior Bailey Ewan singled to right field as Chapman took third, but he was waved home and tagged out at the plate by Cantu.
After giving up one run in the initial frame, Forrest retired the next 20 batters before walking Betancourt with two out in the seventh.
“Timely hitting is essential and we didn’t get it done but both teams played well,” Burbank coach Bob Hart said. “It was a play here and there type of game. Their pitching was outstanding as well as ours [senior Daniel Neria]. We had our chances and ultimately, it’s up to us to get the job done and we did not tonight. I’m proud of my guys because they always battle.”
In quick fashion, Forrest fanned DiPietro looking to lead off the second and then punched out junior Julian Gonzalez swinging. When senior Ben Baptiste whiffed looking, the inning was over.
Forrest saw junior Ben Castillo lined to first base to begin the third inning and struck out LaMarsna swinging. Avellaneda was caught looking at a third strike to end the frame.
Cantu lined to third base to start the fourth, Cafferty flied to right field and when Betancourt bounced back to Forrest, it was on to the fifth inning.
Forrest struck out the side in the fifth as DiPietro fanned swinging, Gonzalez struck out looking and Baptiste whiffed swinging.
Another perfect inning followed for Forrest as Castillo struck out swinging to begin the sixth and LaMarsna grounded to shortstop while Avellaneda also whiffed swinging.
Forrest retired Cantu on a grounder to third base in the seventh inning and Cafferty struck out swinging before issuing his only walk of the game to Bentancourt.
Neria toured four innings and allowed five hits with seven strikeouts and one hit batter.
“I didn’t feel great. I’ve been dealing with an elbow problem after the Crescenta Valley game and this was one of those days where it was acting up,” Neria said. “My off speeds I couldn’t command but it’s hard to dial them down when you’ve got a rubber mound. I’m not going to use these as an excuse. I’m proud of what our team has done this year. I can’t wait for the playoffs.”
Cafferty came in for the final two innings and fanned four and surrendered two hits.
Sophomore Mason Mahay singled to right field with two out in the second inning for the Bears and stole second base but advanced no further.
With two out in the fifth, Andrew Chapman singled to left field and then swiped second base but did not move from there.
Junior Jarell Bijasa singled with two out in the sixth frame for Burroughs but was the final out when he was caught in a rundown.