TEMECULA Coming off an elbow surgery and having never pitched a varsity game, Burke Mitchell wasn’t expecting a prominent role on Temecula Valley’s pitching staff this season.
But circumstances suddenly changed when Golden Bears ace Garrett Nimmo was sidelined by an elbow injury at the start of the season, which thrust Mitchell into the starting rotation unexpectedly.
Mitchell has kept a stranglehold on that rotation spot ever since. Mitchell (9-0) maintained his spotless record by allowing just five hits during Temecula Valley’s convincing 9-2 win over Arroyo Grande in the second round of the Division II playoffs Tuesday. The Bears visit Aliso Niguel in the quarterfinals Friday.
“I was hoping to just be a little reliever guy,” said Mitchell of his preseason expectations this year after not pitching as a sophomore due to elbow woes.
In 5 2/3 innings, Mitchell was efficient as he didn’t give up a walk, throwing 59 of his 90 pitches for strikes.
The junior right-hander kept the visiting Eagles (19-7-3) off-guard by pinpointing his fastball, curveball and change-up on the corners of the plate. Mitchell allowed just two runs while striking out six.
“He hits his locations well,” Temecula Valley coach Tony Nobiensky said. “He has improved a lot as the year has gone on. That’s why he is one of our starting pitchers. He’s just a competitor. He loves when a guy takes the mound and just wants to compete.”
When Mitchell approached his workload limit in the sixth, it was Nimmo who entered the game in relief and put out a fire by inducing a groundout with two runners aboard. Nimmo, a Cal State Bakersfield commit, recorded the last four outs of the game, which sealed the Bears’ first trip to the quarterfinals since 2006.
“When I got injured, I knew that these guys were going to step up and take my spot,” Nimmo said. “They put me in the bullpen and I’m happy where I’m at.”
Even though Nimmo is pitching out of the bullpen these days, Nobiensky acknowledged the team can’t make a deep postseason run without his help. Tuesday, Nimmo displayed an 87-mph fastball, the fastest recorded pitch among the five pitchers who pitched.
Trailing 1-0, the Golden Bears (21-5) erupted for seven runs on six singles in the fourth inning off Arroyo Grande starting pitcher Kyle Brown. Brown entered the frame with a no-hitter.
Temecula Valley’s Jared Morton started the rally by pulling a RBI single down the left-field line. Three batters later, David Maldonado stroked a two-run single to right field.
“Our starting pitcher has been very dominant all year and they squared some balls up on him,” said Arroyo Grande coach Brad Lachemann, the son of former Angels manager Marcel Lachemann. “We haven’t seen a team through the lineup put the bat on the ball against him like they did today.”
Morton and shortstop Kyle Plantier each led the Bears with two hits.
Proving how far the Bears have come since they were an inconspicuous team in the preseason, Plantier and right fielder A.J. Sawyer discovered Tuesday that Toronto Blue Jays All-Star Jose Bautista was following them on Twitter.
“I was shocked because I have never met the guy in my life,” Plantier said.