Terry Bernal/Daily Journal
Serra’s Matt Blais pitched a complete-game shutout in a non-league 6-0 win over Terra Nova.
Good luck to opposing hitters when Matt Blais gets on a roll. And right now, the Serra right-hander is on quite a roll.
Locking up with Terra Nova left-hander Jared Milch, Blais led the Padres to a 6-0 win over Terra Nova Wednesday in San Mateo, needing just 92 pitches to fire a complete-game shutout. It was Blais’ fourth consecutive complete-game of the season.
With the win, Blais improves to 6-2. Milch surrendered two runs over five innings of work to take the loss. The sophomore’s record falls to 3-3.
Despite striking out eight, Blais was keen to rely on his defense by pitching to contact.
“That’s the way, for me, to try to stay in the game longer is just pitch to contact, use your defense,” Blais said. “Today we had some good plays … so, a lot of help from the guys in the field and then for the strikeouts just made my pitches.”
The Padres defense responded with some outstanding play, including what was arguable the play of the year on an all-out diving gem from shortstop Calvin Riley.
Riley made the dazzling play to end the third inning. The junior ranged far to his right on a bolt off the bat of Terra Nova cleanup hitter Ray Falk. With a fully extended dive to his backhand, Riley nabbed the liner, popped to his feet and made a one-hop throw to first which first baseman Patrick O’Regan scooped out of the dirt to complete the Wizard of Oz-esque gem.
“I think [Riley] was completely off the ground when he caught it,” Blais said. “He popped up and made a good throw to first. It was good. It was a big momentum swing for us.”
The Serra offense responded by breaking a scoreless tie in the bottom of the third. Nolan Dempsey sparked the rally with a line-drive single to center. With one out, Angelo Bortolin executed a hit-and-run by shooting a single to right, moving Dempsey to third. Neil Sterling followed with an RBI single to left. Then with two outs, Felix Aberouette reached on an infield error to score Bortolin, giving Serra a 2-0 lead.
With Serra’s regular shortstop Sean Watkins relegated to designated hitter due to an injured bicep, Riley was penciled into the lineup for just his fourth start of the year. In addition to his third-inning gem, Riley teamed with second baseman Dempsey in the sixth to again rob Falk. This time it was a sweet corral-job by Dempsey to nab a hot smash. The senior fed Riley for a 4-6-3 twin killing.
It was a key play as Serra led just 2-0 at the time. But in the bottom of the frame, the Padres went large with a four-run outburst to give Blais plenty of breathing room.
Facing Tigers’ reliever Falk, Chris Papapietro smoked a leadoff double into the left-field corner. Dempsey bunted Papapietro to third. Then things got a little weird. With the Terra Nova infield drawn in, Watkins hit a chopper to shortstop Anthony Gordon. The junior threw a strike to the plate to catch Papapietro in a rundown. Catcher Jeff Hendricks couldn’t complete the pickle though, as an errant throw to third sailed down the left-field line to score not only Papapietro, but allowed Watkins to motor all the way around to plate on a three-base error, giving Serra a 4-0 lead.
But Serra didn’t stop there. After a walk to Sterling, James Outman took a 3-2 offering and crushed it to right field for a two-run home run, the junior’s second of the year.
“Our coach told us to get a good pitch to hit … and just capitalize when you can and for the most part we were able to do that,” Outman said.
Blais did the rest, ending the game with two consecutive strikeouts.
The loss is Terra Nova’s third straight in non-league play. The Tigers (10-8 overall) knew they were going to have their hands full with their first matchup against a West Catholic Athletic League opponent this season.
“It was really tough. [Blais] is a D-I guy,” Milch said. “I just tried to hit my spots and keep the ball low because they’ve got great hitters over there.”
The good news for Terra Nova is the return of Gordon to the lineup. The junior played in his first game of the season Thursday after being on the shelf all year with a hip injury.
“We’ve faced a lot of adversity through the season but we think that now is our time,” Milch said. “We’ve got some experience against a good team. Now we head back to league next week and I think we can get a lot more wins.”
For the Padres (11-10), the win was essential as it prevented their overall record from falling under the .500 mark for the first time this season. Serra resumes WCAL play April 29 at Riordan. Currently in sixth place with four games to go, the Padres are counting on Blais having plenty left in the tank down the stretch.
“We’ve talked a lot this year about the ability to understand different effort levels and gears through the course of a game,” Serra manager Craig Gianinno said. “So, he’s developed that rhythm where he gets stronger as he goes.
“His stuff is as good as anybody’s, so give me 70 percent of that early, that’s still really good. As the game unfolds and comes to him, he’ll know where he may need to turn it on a little bit and then gear back. And with all that, I think it’s really difficult for hitters to get comfortable in the box.”
And as uncomfortable as opposing hitters are in facing him, Blais is cruising to one outstanding season.