Photo by www.andrewfoulkphotography.com Vista Murrieta's Dallas Reed, tags out West Covina South Hills Adrian De Horta, at 2nd during the CIF Southern Section Division II quarterfinal game.
MURRIETA In what would be expected from a Division II quarterfinal showdown, there was some premium pitching talent on display at Friday’s West Covina South Hills-Vista Murrieta contest.
The game featured three hard throwers ---- Vista Murrieta’s Tyler Russell (89-mph fastball) and South Hills’ Adrian De Horta (90 mph) and David Denson (90 mph) ---- that approached pitch speeds that are often characteristic of a collegiate or professional affair.
Proving that velocity isn’t everything, it was Vista Murrieta’s Joven Afenir that shined the most of the game’s hurlers.
Afenir allowed only one run and six hits over five innings, pushing the Broncos to a 2-1 win over South Hills. The Broncos, who advanced to the semifinal round for the first time since 2007, visit Cypress on Tuesday.
Although Afenir is primarily known for setting the table as a leadoff hitter and his striking defense in center field, the Kansas-bound senior has quietly been a force on the mound this year. Afenir holds a microscopic 0.93 ERA even though his 3-5 record isn’t indicative of that.
On Friday, Afenir kept the South Hills hitters off-guard by attacking them with a mix of mid-80s fastballs, curveballs and changeups. The athletic right-hander walked none while holding the Huskies hitters to only singles. Afenir used his secondary pitches to register strike-three on all four of his strikeouts.
“I threw every pitch for a strike, especially my change-up,” Afenir said. “I was able to throw my off-speed (pitches) in big situations and not overthrow. There’s a couple I did overthrow, but for the most part I was able to throw my changeup for a strike when I need to.”
Expected to play exclusively outfield at Kansas, Afenir said he is relishing this year because it will likely be the last season he’s on the mound.
He wasn’t fazed by the challenge of getting the starting nod against De Horta, a Cal State Fullerton commit who threw at least three 90-mph fastballs in the game before being pulled after the second inning due to a “tight arm”.
“I tried not to think about it too much,” Afenir said. “I knew I was going up against a guy going to Fullerton, and I knew I didn’t throw as hard as him. I know my stuff could be good enough if I did what I do.”
Afenir also received a boost from catcher Ryan Lillie, who threw out three attempted base stealers.
Making a rare relief appearance, Russell struck out three batters over two scoreless frames to notch his first save. The Broncos ace didn’t have to conserve his bullets so he fired away with a fastball that consistently sat in the 87-89-mph range.
“I just came in there to do my part, facing 1-2-3 (batters) that first inning ---- heart of the order,” Russell said. “I had to come in there tough. I came in there fired up, ready to go.”
Facing both De Horta and Denson, runs were at a premium and the Broncos did enough to capitalize. In the first inning, Ian Nowak swatted a sharply hit single off De Horta, scoring Ruben Ornelas.
Vista Murrieta (19-10) scored the decisive run in the fourth when Dallas Reed clubbed a run-scoring single to right field off Denson, a University of Hawaii commit.
“I feel like we are a better hitting fastball team,” Reed said. “We have trouble with offspeed stuff. Every day in the cage, it’s all we work on ---- hitting the ball away off hard pitching.”