It was the defining momemt of the Santa Monica High baseball season.
A team devoid of power was trying to remain undefeated in the Ocean League and clinch a playoff berth with a bunt. And Alex Kovacs, a determined athlete who’s also the school’s star soccer goalie, was at the plate.
It happened Thursday, May 1 on the Vikings’ field. The score was 1-1 in the sixth inning against Beverly Hills.
The pitch was a fastball, thrown so hard it almost knocked Kovacs down. But he kept his bat firm, made the play, then slipped and staggered toward first base. He would be out but it didn’t matter. He had done his job.
Logan Whitchurch, who had led off the inning with a double and reached third on a wild pitch, easily scored on the bunt.
A three-run inside the park homer by second baseman Ricki Gomez — only Samohi’s third home run of the season — clinched the 5-1 victory. Samohi had also defeated Beverly Hills two days earlier, 8-4.
So the first week of May began with Samohi possessing an 8-0 Ocean League record, awaiting two games against Culver City, which is 7-1. Both have clinched playoff berths and Beverly hills, at 4-4, is likely to be invited too, but as a third place team facing a difficult road game in the first playoff round.
The squeeze bunt was significant because it was a mid-season decision by coach Rob Duron that the Vikings lacked power and would require a “small ball” philosophy to be successful.
The coach knew the team’s strength was pitching, and both Paul Salazar and Tyler Skaggs turned in complete games against Beverly Hills.
Skaggs, a 6-foot-4 junior who has received attention from several college programs, has struck out at least 10 batters in several recent victories but settled for four in this one.
“The squeeze bunt was beautiful,” said Duron. “And our pitching remains solid.”
Samohi took a 1-0 lead on a single by Colter Johnson, a wild pitch and a single by Vince Lawrence. A wild pitch by Skaggs in the fifth inning brought in the Beverly Hills run, setting the stage for the sixth inning heroics.
On Sunday, May 8, Samohi will learn who it will oppose in the first playoff round.