Malibu baseball loses a pitchers duel 1-0

Malibu High School's Philip Johnson at bat.

On Malibu starting pitcher Aaron Westine’s high school reading list you will find a Charles Dickens yarn on the French Revolution. Now Dickens never attended a varsity baseball game at Malibu High School, but Westine could probably tell you how the novelist’s famed opening line resonates with his team’s 2005 season-a season that has had its best of times and its worst of times.

It has been a tale of two seasons for the Malibu Sharks with more than two-thirds of the regular season in the books. After starting with two losses in early March to Vasquez and South Gate, the Sharks ran off 10 consecutive victories, outscoring the opposition by an astounding 79 runs (115-36). But the proverbial fire in their eyes has subsided recently as they have gone on to lose four of their last five, the most current being a 1-0 loss to Harvard-Westlake of North Hollywood in a pitchers’ duel Saturday at Malibu High School.

Westine took to the hill for the Sharks (11-6, 6-1) in the top of the first inning. He is the team’s number three starter, pitching mainly on weekends to give aces Brooks Fitch and Philip Johnson their rest. The pitcher has been relatively successful this season in notching a 2-1 record and an ERA of 3.00, but he seemed to have a special ace up his sleeve Saturday as he and his overhand curveball limited Harvard-Westlake (4-12, 1-7) to one run and three hits over seven innings.

Malibu head coach Paul Gallo was happy with the way Westine threw the ball. “Absolutely,” Gallo said. “You’re always happy when a pitcher throws a complete game for you. [Westine] is a senior now and I’ve been waiting four years for him to pitch like this. His going deep into the game like that was all I could have asked for.”

Westine also managed to strike out five on the afternoon, but his performance was all for naught as he was unable to get any run support from the unusually stagnant Malibu bats.

Westine pitched a scoreless top of the first inning, bringing Malibu to the plate in the bottom frame. It looked like business for usual for the Sharks when second baseman Brett Weinstock crushed a double to left-center field to lead off the game, but questionable base running quickly put a damper on this prosperous start. Geoff Roth followed Weinstock with a ground ball to the pitcher. Thinking the ball would slip through the middle, Weinstock took off for third base and was hung out to dry for the first out.

Roth was subsequently picked off during the next at-bat in which, according to coach Gallo, he and centerfielder Daniel Williams were set to hit and run. The red hot Williams followed the running blunders with an infield single to prolong the inning, but catcher Philip Johnson’s drive to left field was hit right at a Harvard-Westlake outfielder, ending the disappointing inning for the Sharks. The poor base running irked Gallo.

“We did not run smart today,” a disappointed Gallo said. “You need smart base running to win close games and we didn’t do that today.”

The game’s only run came in the top of the third inning. With one out, Westine walked a Harvard-Westlake batter. After a stolen base took the runner to second, the next batter hit an RBI single. A throw home failed to thwart the run, but Johnson, the catcher, threw out the runner attempting to take second. Westine walked the next batter, but apparently liking the feeling of throwing base runners out, Johnson caught the Harvard-Westlake runner attempting to steal second with a rocket to Weinstock. Regardless, one run was all Harvard-Westlake would need to hold on for the victory.

Malibu hit four singles over the next six innings, but they were unable to manufacture a run. Base running proved to haunt the team again as a Malibu base runner was picked off first base with two outs in the bottom of the seventh and final inning. Coach Gallo talked about the Shark’s inability to score a run.

“The middle of our lineup has just started to slump at the same time,” Gallo said. “Our heads are down a little bit more than I’d like them to be, but we are mentally tough and we can rebound from these losses.”

The Sharks have the five remaining regular season games to find their winning demeanor, the final game being a May 12 contest against Santa Paula at Malibu High School. With a 6-1 record thus far in league, they have a good shot at postseason play. And with a lineup boasting dependable hitters like Daniel Williams-

a .566 batting average as of last week-Malibu seems to have the firepower to make a playoff run.