Malibu Walks-Off Against Nordhoff

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Andre Simoneau pitched his best game of the season.

With their backs against the wall, facing a must-win situation, the Malibu High School baseball team dug deep and turned back the clock for a stirring 2-1 extra-inning victory over Nordhoff last week.

Malibu, the defending back-to-back Frontier League champions in 2013 and 2014, were moved to the more challenging Tri-Valley League for the 2015 season. Competition has been much stronger and, as a result, the Sharks have struggled to the tune of 1-5 in league and 8-11 overall.

Nordhoff entered the season series 4-2 in league and 9-7-1 in the year. On a magnificent day in Malibu, the Sharks refused to lose and pulled out a gutty 2-1 win in eight innings, reminiscent of their walk-off playoff win one year ago against Flintridge Prep, in which MHS rallied for a 6-5 second round victory.

The comeback began in the bottom of the sixth inning with Malibu trailing 1-0. Bronson Bard led off the inning with a walk and senior Ezra Allen followed with a double to right center. Two batters later, freshman catcher Tyler Ray’s sacrifice fly brought home Bard to tie the game at one apiece.

Nordhoff threatened by loading the bases in the top of the seventh, but no damage was done as Malibu ace Andre Simoneau induced the Rangers’ Spencer Yates to pop up to Dylan Ross at second base to end the inning.

Simoneau, a senior southpaw, left the game after seven strong innings, allowing only one run (zero earned) on four hits, walking one and striking out five.

“The downfall of our pitching staff before had been walking people, so I was trying to get first-pitch strikes,” Simoneau said. “It’s a big difference to a hitter being down 0-1 or up 1-0.”

“He pitched great today, especially since he wasn’t feeling 100% coming into it,” Malibu coach Ari Jacobs said. “That’s what it takes to be a champion in life. You have to dig deep and find that energy and good stuff … and he did.”

The nip-and-tuck game went extra innings after Malibu was unsuccessful in the bottom of the seventh with runners on first and second.

Sophomore Declan Sheridan came in relief of Simoneau and retired the Rangers in order on three straight groundouts.

The stage was set in the bottom of the eighth for Malibu to deliver its biggest win of the year. Currently tied for fifth place and two games out of the fourth and final playoff spot, the Sharks found the will to win.

Dylan Kretschmar, Brendan Morrison and Biggie Murray reached base, courtesy of an error, walk, and fielder’s choice, respectively, to load the bases with one out.

Senior first baseman Austin George promptly crushed a fastball to deep right center, scoring Kretschmar and setting off a wild celebration.

“We needed this. Austin works so hard for our team. It was great that it was him,” said Simoneau. “Knowing that it kept us in the running for playoffs contributed to the overall celebration out there.”

Malibu players mobbed George as he rounded first base. It was George’s first walk-off hit in high school and it came when the Sharks so desperately needed a win to keep their playoff hopes alive.

“I was looking for a good pitch and if I had a good pitch, I would drive it. They were playing shallow and I felt I drove the ball pretty well,” George said. “It was very joyful because we got the win.”

“He’s a really good hitter,” said Jacobs. “When moments like that happen, it was great for him and it was great for this team.”

Malibu (9-12, 2-6) banged out 11 hits in the win led by Allen, Murray, Morrison and Ray, who each had two hits.

“We have put ourselves in a position where every game is kind of like a playoff game. It was great to see the guys respond,” Jacobs said. “When you pull out a 2-1 game it means we are playing good defense, we are pitching well and we are figuring out ways to manufacture runs. That is what baseball is about.”

Unfortunately, the tables were reversed two days later as the Rangers walked off with a 1-0 eight-inning victory versus the Sharks.

While the varsity team split its series with Nordhoff, the Sharks’ JV team swept the Rangers behind two outstanding pitching performances.

Freshman Jake Hughes pitched a complete game shutout, allowing no runs on two hits and striking out six in a 4-0 win. He also had two RBIs.

Two days later, freshman Tanner Gottlieb threw a complete game shutout as he struck out five Rangers and scored two runs in the 5-0 victory. The Sharks improved to 5-3 in league.