RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA — The JSerra baseball team snapped its five game losing streak Thursday by blanking Santa Margarita 2-0 in a Trinity League game at Santa Margarita High.
Junior Matthew Champion pitched his best game of the season and the Lions needed it. The LSU commit allowed just one hit and struck out four as he pitched a complete game.
“There was a lot of pressure because of the losing streak and I knew I had to pound the zone and get guys out,” Champion said. “All three pitches were working well; the fastball and changeup were really good.”
Santa Margarita (7-2, 4-1) had defeated the Lions 7-1 on Wednesday, a fourth straight loss for Serra to begin league play.
“We needed to be infused with something and Champ did what we needed,” JSerra coach Brett Kay said. “He wants the ball and he’s the right kind of guy that performs at the highest level for us. He’s exactly what we needed.”
Santa Margarita pitcher Sammy Cova was also excellent on the mound and matched Champion’s effort for much of the game. The left-handed Oregon signee allowed two runs in 5.2 innings with four strikeouts. Cova did not allow a run through five innings.
“That’s my second time throwing against Sammy and every time he’s throwing strikes and getting through innings,” Champion said of Cova. “Three up, three down from both sides, it was a great game.”
JSerra (4-5, 1-4) had its first scoring threat in the fifth inning. The Lions stranded the bases loaded and had a failed squeeze bunt attempt.
In the sixth inning, the squeeze bunt worked. Jonathan Mendez led the inning off with a double and advanced to third on a single by Dominic Smaldino. Designated hitter Ryan Strickland drove in Mendez with a squeeze bunt to give JSerra a 1-0 lead.
“Strickland did it against Mater Dei last year in a big moment so I knew he could do it,” Kay said.
Sophomore Tyler Dunning added to JSerra’s lead in the sixth with a run-scoring single to make it 2-0. Dunning saw 12 pitches in the at-bat before driving a single to left field.
“Dunning’s at-bat was the biggest at-bat of our season so far,” Kay said. “Going into this game we were something like 2 for 30 with runners in scoring position. We just haven’t been getting big hits and his at-bat was phenomenal.”
Cal commit Jake Lavin had the lone hit of the game for Santa Margarita in the fifth inning.
Entering this week, Santa Margarita is ranked No. 1 in the Register’s Top 25 after sweeping Orange Lutheran last week. JSerra entered the season ranked No. 1 but is currently No. 4 after getting swept by Mater Dei.
“We were reading the positive headlines about us and were a little soft, if you will,” Kay said. “This is the first game where I felt like we played JSerra baseball. We played our best game of the year today.”
The two teams play the third and final game of their league series Friday at Santa Margarita. JSerra will likely have a staff day where several pitchers will make an appearance.