By Ed PiperLefty 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.
Besides Schneider, Holdgrafer and Volger were named to the All-Western League First Team, while Eliopulos, Whelan and Clark were named to the Second Team. Frank said the others could easily have been named all-league as well.
When asked a month ago about the fewer appearances Clark and Bucon had as starting pitchers, Frank answered, “It’s not that Weston and Luke haven’t been effective. It’s just that Sam and Timmy have been so good.” Holdgrafer finished at 7-3, with a 2.36 ERA. He struck out 46 batters in 68 and a third innings while walking only 16. The lefthander Clark was able to log 26 and one-third innings, with a 2.36 ERA, and Bucon 24 innings with a 2.33 ERA.
The Vikings haven’t won a league title since 2007, so this year has been a special time to celebrate. This is Frank’s 11th year at the helm, seven years before that as an assistant. The championship is the fifth in the school’s history, dating back to 1953 in the City Prep League.
Starters coming back next year are juniors Holdgrafer, Clark, Bucon, Hytinnen, Whelan, Strohl, and Hofmann, with only Schneider, Volger, and Eliopulos graduating. That portends for a lot more good baseball on the field at Muirlands Middle School.