The Woodside-Mills baseball matchup Thursday afternoon in Millbrae featured two of the top pitchers in the Peninsula Athletic League’s Ocean Division — Woodside freshman Jamie Kruger and Mills junior lefty Kyle Vallans.
On this day, it was experience over potential as Vallans pitched a gem in a 4-2 Vikings’ victory.
“Early, he was kind of grooving balls,” said Mills manager Tony Adornetto. “Once he started locating balls, he started getting them to swing at his pitch.”
With the win, Mills (10-0 PAL Ocean, 11-10 overall) remains undefeated in Ocean Division play and all but ended Woodside’s (6-4, 9-13) chances of challenging for the title.
Woodside exploited Vallans early on as he searched for consistency to start the game. The Wildcats touched him for two runs on three hits in the first inning. After that, however, Vallans held Woodside to just four hits the rest of the way as he threw a complete game with five strikeouts and no walks.
“[Vallans] settled down nicely. He was a little shaky in the first,” said Woodside assistant coach Tim Worthington. “It was a really good performance.”
Woodside had a number of loud hits and outs in the first inning. Jordan Benavides jumped on the first pitch of the game and flared a single to shallow center field. Shane Stafford followed and crushed a double down the left-field line to put runners on second and third. Brad Degnan — who set a state record with three home runs in the first inning in a 24-6 win over Westmoor last Friday — came to the plate and drove home Benavides with a groundout. Kruger, who also serves as the Wildcats’ cleanup hitter, came through with an RBI double to put Woodside up 2-0 and give the Vikings their first deficit of the year in league play.
Not that Adonetto or the Vikings panicked.
“We still had seven at-bats to make something happen,” Adornetto said.
Kruger got through the first two innings unscathed, allowing a first-inning walk and having Sean McHugh reach on an error in the second.
In the third, however, Kruger appeared to lose his command. While he wasn’t getting banged around by the Vikings, he struggled to find the strike zone and Mills took advantage. The Vikings put together three walks and a Sereno Esponilla RBI single to cut the Wildcats’ lead to 2-1.
The Vikings’ chance to tie the game in the third died at the plate when Derek Wong was tagged out at home following a wild pitch from Kruger. Woodside catcher Stafford pounced on it and fed Kruger, who was covering home, slapping the tag on Wong on a bang-bang play.
Mills then tied the game with a run in the fourth. McHugh led off the inning with a single to center and stole second base. Mitchell Wong then walked and Paul Winakur legged out a bunt for a hit to load the bases. Jason Lujan followed and hit a slow roller to the Woodside second baseman. The Wildcats got Winakur at second but the throw back to first was late and Lujan had an RBI to tie the game at 2.
The Vikings lost another run at the plate when Mitchell Wong again thrown out following a wild pitch.
“That’s the fourth and fifth time this week we’ve run out innings,” Adornetto said. “You have to know your limits.”
In the fifth, Mills took the lead with a pair of runs. Aram Moshkounian led off the inning with a walk and scampered home when Esponilla crushed a one-hop double to the fence in left field to give Mills a 3-2 lead. Esponilla would move to third on a groundout and score on a Mike McWhirter huge chopper groundout to put Mills up 4-2.
After that, it was Vallans’ game. He wiggled out of a jam in fifth inning, with the Wildcats getting runners to second and third with only one out, but could not cash in. The Wildcats’ last good scoring chance came in the top of the seventh, as they got a runner as far as third base, but Vallans induced a groundout to end the game.
“Usually, it’s our No. 3, No. 4 guys hitting. But the last few games, we’ve seen production from other spots,” Adornetto said. “And we’re putting the ball in play. If you put enough balls in play, [the other team] is going to make errors.”
Worthington put it even more succinctly.
“[Mills] executed. We didn’t,” he said.