BARSTOW • Putting all the pieces together and earning a good win is always fun for a team. As is beating the undefeated.
The Big Bear baseball team came to town with a 5-0 record on Wednesday, but it was 5-1 when it left, after suffering a 9-2 loss to the Aztecs at Barstow High School.
Not only have the Bears been winning, they've been winning big, taking their last three games by a combined score of 65-3. Add in that the Aztecs' previous game was a 15-5 loss to Ramona, and perhaps the Bears were under the impression that all they had to do was show up.
The Aztecs disabused them of that notion pretty quickly. Barstow got 11 hits, scored three runs in the first inning, made only one error in the field and got a superb pitching outing from Austin Willis. It all added up to a rough afternoon for the Bears.
"Maybe they looked at our last game and looked right past us," said Aztecs head coach Kenny Phillips. "But we've had good practices the last few days and executed where we had to today. We played sound defense and got a real good performance out of Austin Willis."
The Aztec pitcher put the Bears on notice right away, notching a 1-2-3 top of the first, with two strikeouts. Barstow got going immediately in the bottom half, scoring all the runs they'd need. Colin Klein kicked it off by drawing a one-out walk, followed by a Marcus Madero single. After another out, Willis singled to load the bases. Storm Phillips was hit by a pitch to drive in the first run, then Nathan Ridge doubled to center, to bring in two more.
The Aztecs added on another in the second, as Zeke Haenelt walked and came home on another Madero single.
The Bears got one back in the second, with Vini Haro hitting a lead-off double and scoring on Brett Ghelber's single. Morgan Brannock also singled, and he and Ghelber were on base with none out. Willis responded by inducing a fly out and ground out, and collected his third strikeout to end the threat.
The Bears got their final run in the fifth, as Blake Smith singled and scored on Jacob Gafford's ground out. Again, there was the potential for a big inning for Big Bear, but they had to be content with just one run.
"We were able to shut the door on a couple of innings that could have been real big for them," said coach Phillips. "We got them out, and got back to offense."
Barstow came to bat in the top of the sixth leading, 4-2, and wanting to tack on a few more. It turned out to be the home team's big inning, with five quick runs. Haenelt led off by drawing his third walk of the day, and Sean Schoffstahl reached on an error. After a perfectly-executed double-steal, Klein singled Haenelt in, Schoffstahl scored on a wild pitch, and Madero walked. That left two on base for Austin Crank, who took a pitch over the centerfield fence for a three-RBI homer.
While the offense tallied up the runs, Willis kept cruising. He authored two more three-up/three-down frames, the third and sixth, and would have limited the Bears to three batters in the fourth, but for the Aztecs' lone error.
"Willis and (catcher) Phillips had a meeting to get in sync before the game, and they executed their game plan flawlessly," said coach Phillips. "At this point in the season, we don't want Willis throwing more than 80 pitches, so when he got to 70, we weren't sure whether to send him out for the seventh."
Willis did start the last inning, striking out his first batter. When Anthony Decaro doubled, however, Crank took over to get the last two outs and preserve the win.
Willis gave up two runs on six hits over 6.1 innings, walking none and striking out 10. Haro started for the Bears (5ip, 4r, 8h, 4bb, 3k), and Dallas Burk (1ip, 5r, 3h, 3bb, 0k) finished up.
The Aztecs continued their hot offense. Ridge went 3-for-4 with a double and two RBI, while Madero and Alfredo Lopez each hit two singles.
The win left the Aztecs with a 3-1 record.
"We made a couple of mental errors and missed a couple of signs, but all in all, this was a good game to get ourselves ready before league begins," said Phillips.
Barstow has another non-leaguer, a game at Hesperia Tuesday, before Desert Sky League play begins at Burroughs next Friday.