Lefty pitcher Sam Schneider was effective early to gain his eighth win of the season, and the La Jolla Vikings held on to down the Eastlake Titans 5-3 in the first round of the CIF Division II playoffs at home May 28.
The Vikings struck early against Titan starter Isaac Vargas, scoring two runs in the first inning and three runs in the second to go up 5-0. Towering, 6’,6” first baseman Noah Strohl slammed a double to drive in Jackson Hytinnen in the first inning, and Alex Eliopulos followed with a sharply-hit single to right to bring Strohl around.
In the bottom of the second inning, Hytinnen drove in James Whelan and Sean Hofmann, both who had singled, and Weston Clark lined a shot to center to score Hytinnen from second base, and the Vikings looked like they were going to continue to pile up runs. Vargas was removed after the second inning.
Fortunately, Schneider, who Coach Gary Frank said this season has grown in confidence, was holding Eastlake scoreless through four innings, because the Vikings didn’t score again. Their last 13 hitters were put down in order the last four innings.
The senior, named Pitcher of the Year in the Western League for his stellar season, induced Vargas to ground to shortstop Brett Volger for a double play to end the second inning, and Titan Angel Estrada the same in the following inning.
Schneider, intense and focused in contrast to his easy-going, friendly demeanor on his non-pitching days, completed the year with a spectacular 1.21 ERA in addition to his sparkling 8-2 record. He struck out 37 and walked 13, a 3-to-1 ratio, which is very efficient. His 13 walks in 57 and two-thirds innings breaks down to a base on balls, slightly more than once every four innings.
In this contest, he walked the first batter, Estrada, and didn’t issue another walk. Estrada was left stranded on base.
But, as Frank was quick to point out before the game, Schneider isn’t the Vikings’ only heat-seeking weapon. Strohl, who started off the scoring with his shot that bounded to the fence in left-centerfield, finished with a .321 average after sitting around .200 at midseason. Eliopulos, the starting third baseman the past three years, drove in the second run and clubbed the ball at a .333 clip. Strohl led the team with 23 RBI’s, Eliopulos second with 20. For his efforts, Eliopulos was named to the All-Western League First Team in this league championship season (10-2, 21-10 overall).
“Something clicked in,” said Frank of his team’s hitting burst to end the season. “We were hitting .258 over the first half of the season, .375 over the second half.”
In fact, all nine hitters in the LJHS lineup hit .300 or just below, for a team average of a whopping .303, something La Jolla has not seen any time recently. Timmy Holdgrafer, who pitched and played second base, led at .366, followed by Eliopulos, Strohl and Weston Clark at .315, Volger at .312, James Whelan at .300, and Luke Bucon and Sean Hofmann each at .293.