Bullard High’s baseball team had pretty much rendered meaningless a 2-6 start with a seven-game winning streak.
But the Knights’ most emphatic statement of all occurred Friday at ninth-ranked Edison in a showdown of 4-0 teams in the County/Metro Athletic Conference.
They excelled in all phases in the 4-1 win ahead of Easter tournament season and the holiday break.
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Brady Barcellos gave up one run in five innings and Joel Ellerbrock earned the save with two innings of one-hit relief.
Andrew Pizarro launched a two-run homer over the left-field wall in the second inning, Logan Rusconi added an RBI double in the fifth and Nick Sheehan a sacrifice fly in the sixth.
•Most of all, defense:
Pizarro gunned down a would-be base stealer to deny Edison in a scoreless third, when the Tigers had a walk, single and double; center fielder Nick Napoli closed the Edison fourth with a diving catch, likely preventing two runs; and second baseman Branden Hepp and shortstop Christian Cline converted a groundball by the Tigers’ best hitter, Tyler Turney, into a double play to slam the door in the fifth.
Napoli’s play — charging and laying out to pilfer Casey Wagnon’s sinking liner — was of SportsCenter highlights quality. And it wasn’t his first this season after stepping away from the game as a junior.
“He’s an excellent, excellent center fielder,” Bullard coach Chad Thornhill said. “He’s probably become one of the best center fielders in the section. He runs well, is aggressive and, in any situation, is not afraid to lay it on the line and take a risk to make the kind of play he did today.”
Edison (11-5), down 2-1 in the fourth after arriving with an eight-game winning streak, had Marty Deis and Isiah Haddad on following singles when Wagnon challenged Napoli.
“I actually got a bad jump on it,” Napoli said. “I first went back, then charged and laid out at the last second. With Brady, my boy on the mound, I’ve got to take care of him. I caught it on the lip of the glove and squeezed it, but didn’t know if it was in. Then I pulled the glove up and it was in there.”
Also secure now in Bullard blue is confidence for an eighth-ranked team that went 1-6 against Tri-River Athletic Conference competition in the season-opening Coca Cola Classic.
Yes, that’s sure to sting the Knights (10-6) come Division I seeding in five weeks. But win No. 3 in the current eight-game run of victories was a 1-0 conquest of second-ranked Centennial, which is 13-1, clearly the class of Kern County and potential D-I top seed. And it was little lefty Barcellos who winged the Hawks.
Another key development is the presence of Cline at shortstop. Bullard, which will play at the San Diego Lions Tournament next week, is 9-2 since he arrived from soccer, where he was one of the Knights’ best players.
“I love the confidence we’re playing with right now,” said Thornhill, a 1990 Bullard graduate and a 188-game winner with one section title (2012) in 10 years with the program. “But there’s still a lot of things that need to be fixed between now and May.”