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Warhawks heating up at the right time

04/27/2016, 9:22pm PDT
By John Maffei

Veteran Madison team wins fifth straight after weathering midseason slump

Madison sophomore James Shimashita delivers a hit in the Warhawks' 6-4 win over Mission Bay on Wednesday.

The pieces are there.

With 15 returning lettermen from a 19-win team — including seven starters and five players committed to colleges — Madison High was in line for a great baseball season.

Early on, the Warhawks lived up to the hype, starting 6-3 to earn a No. 7 ranking in the county. But the team hit a roadblock, going 2-4-1 in a seven-game stretch after the Lions Tournament.

Madison has taken flight again, running its winning streak to five with a 6-4 Western League win over host Mission Bay on Wednesday.

“We have a way of making things interesting,” said Robert Lovato, who has 304 wins as Madison’s coach. “Mission Bay is a tough place to play. It was tough as a player, and it’s tough as a coach.

“The wind blows in, and the outfielders play shallow. So you have to hit the ball on the ground to get a hit.”

Through the first four innings, the Warhawks had nine fly-ball outs. Mission Bay center fielder Parker St. Germaine threw a strike to catcher Javier Noriega for a double play that thwarted Madison’s only scoring threat through the first five innings.

Good teams find a way to win, and that’s exactly what Madison (13-7-1, 6-0) did in the seventh. With the score tied 4-4, the Warhawks used a pair of walks and a single to load the bases. Andrew Shebloski drove in the go-ahead run with a single, and Kevin Abel scored a second with a sacrifice fly.

“Mission Bay fought like crazy,” said Shebloski, who has signed to play at Saint Mary’s next season. “We seem to get every team’s best.

“We’re a very aggressive team at the plate. We get great pitching and play great defense.”

Shortstop Ryan Hartin, who has signed to play at Point Loma Nazarene, was particularly impressive on defense, handling four chances flawlessly and starting a 6-4-3 double play.

Abel, who has committed to Oregon State, is the ace of the pitching staff, and Lovato had to call on his hard-throwing junior right-hander to put out a fire in the sixth.

Abel pitched the final 12/3 innings, striking out three. He’s now 6-0 with a 0.47 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 442/3 innings.

“Mission Bay is a great rivalry,” Abel said of the Bucs (8-12, 0-6). “We expected their best, and got it. But we expect to play well, too. We have a veteran team, so we expected to come out of the funk we were in.

“We can hit, run, play defense and pitch.

“We want to win a championship, get a ring. So it’s important to be playing well now, getting hot at the end of the season.”

The midseason slump figures to cost Madison a spot in the eight-team Open Division. The Warhawks are currently No. 14 in the 20-team Division I.

Beating La Jolla, currently ranked No. 11 in Division I, the last two games of the season will boost Madison’s stock.

“This is the toughest schedule we’ve played since I’ve been here,” said Lovato. “We have three extra-inning losses, and a 12-inning tie. We have two one-run losses and four one-run wins.

“So we aren’t taking anyone lightly.”

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