Norwalk High’s sophomore first baseman Joseph Davis is attempting to defeat Bellflower High’s Ryan Lopez, who just returned to base in last Thursday’s regular season finals. Norwalk lost 7-4 to the Buccaneers but still made it to the CIF Southern Section playoffs for the first time since 2013. PHOTOGRAPH BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing Photographer.
By Loren Kopff• @Lorenkopff on Twitter
May 4, 2022~ The Norwalk High baseball team had already checked a box for its home-and-home series with Bellflower High during the final week of the regular season, which marked the program’s first trip to the CIF-Southern Section playoffs since 2013 . Another box was ticked on April 26 when the Lancers defeated the Buccaneers 7-3 in nine innings, earning the team no worse than third place.
The pressure eased for Norwalk boss William Wenrick as the teams met again last Thursday in second place at the line. But Bellflower stormed out to a 4-0 lead after just 11 pitches, saw that lead slip away before clinching the final three runs in a 7-4 win. Norwalk, who finished fourth in Division 6, finished the regular season 14-12 overall and 4-4 in the Suburban League. The final polls came out last Monday and the Lancers fell out of the top 10 while the previously unranked Bellflower moved up to ninth place.
On the second pitch of the game, Gil Sanchez hit an infield single and three pitches later he advanced with a base hit by Branin Seibert. Both scored with a three from David Martinez on junior Kaleb Nakano’s seventh throw and on the next throw a double from Ryan Lopez made it 3-0. After a pop up against senior catcher Angel Rosales, Lopez came up with a double from Neo Rodriguez home. Nakano hit seven batters in the inning but threw 15 pitches.
“We knew they were going to shoot after the last game,” Wenrick said. “They knew they weren’t playing their best game so we expected them to burst into flames. Kaleb threw down the pitches; You just hit the ball. I don’t know if it was the noise of the crowd or the intensity or that they jumped on us so quickly… we got hit in the face a few times.”
After going down in turn in the bottom of the first inning, the Lancers responded with two runs in the second and third innings. Rosales was hit by a pitch to lead second, advanced to second on a ground out by junior third baseman Jonathan Guzman, went to third on a single by junior second baseman Kevin Carrillo and scored one as a sophomore First baseman Joseph Davis scored on the left field line. A sacrifice by junior right fielder Michael Castaneda overran Carrillo to cut the deficit in half.
With an out in the next inning, junior midfielder Randy Martinez singled to the left. Then, as Nakano faced 2-2, Martinez was off and running seconds before Nakano laced a base hit into the right field gap to put the runners in the corners. Bellflower pitcher Larry Salgado then hit Rosales to load the bases before Guzman’s single down the right field line ended the game.
“We finally woke up in the second and third innings,” Wenrick said. “We just started playing our game. I know we had a safety squeeze that scored a run. We have a philosophy that if we hit the right side and place a bunt when needed, we will be tough; we will be in games.”
The Bucs would regain the lead in the fourth and add solo counts in the final two innings, but Norwalk had several chances to at least tie the contest. With two outs in the bottom quarter, junior shortstop Caden Barnhill hit an infield knock but was stranded there with all three outs in the frame going to right fielder Chris Guillen. In the fifth, and again with two outs, Guzman singled but would get stuck. The Lancers would also initially strand runners in the next two innings.
Guzman and Nakano had two hits each, while four others had one each as the Lancers ended a streak of eight straight losses. Norwalk visited Whittier Christian High, the second-placed Olympic League representative, in the first round on May 5 and will try to get out of the first round for the first time since 1999, when that team reached the quarterfinals. This season marks the program’s seventh trip to the playoffs since that quarterfinal visit, and this season’s team has had the most wins in a season since 2011, when that team won 15-12. The 2013 playoff team finished 13-12.
“That’s about where we expected to be,” Wenrick said. “I would have preferred to be 15-11, but our goals this year were .500 and making the playoffs. And if our goals were really high, we would win the league. But realistically [assistant] Coach [David] Gallegos and I walked in thinking if we can play .500 overall and .500 in our league, we’re in.
When Wenrick took over the program in 2015, the program had gone through three head coaches in the previous three seasons. He was originally scheduled to coach the collegiate team for three years, grew to five, and now, eight seasons later, he’s leading the team to the playoffs.
“I’ve always trained at Norwalk at the lower levels,” Wenrick said. “When I finally got hired full-time as a teacher, I wanted out [coaching]. I’ve been out for a year and a half or so because I got my credentials. When I heard about the issues the college team was having with their coach and the kids…I thought, “If you ask me to coach, I will coach.” But I really wanted to get my teaching career off the ground.”
Winning nine of the first 12 games of the season allowed the division’s other coaches to take notice, and when the first top 10 polls were released on March 7, the Lancers were in fourth place and stayed all season at that position except when they rotated through to the third on March 14 and again on April 11.
“We really haven’t talked about that much,” Wenrick said. “I don’t expect that to happen with this loss, but you never know. I didn’t really discuss that much with the team. I just came in expecting that if we lost that game we would play on Tuesday and if we won that game we might not play until Thursday.”
In a win over the Heralds, the Lancers would face either Trinity Classical Academy, fifth-place finisher, or Rio Hondo Prep in Tuesday’s second round.