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Neeson, Apollos knock off Crusaders

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset senior pitcher Jake Neeson threw a complete game against Jesuit for the Apollos, striking out seven while walking just two and allowing five hits.

This win was the real thing.

This bona fide triumph came against the Metro League beasts, not the JV up-and-comers of next year.

This conquest was tangible, maybe even season-changing and a long time coming.

After sneaking past a makeshift, suspension-riddled Jesuit squad that only suited one starter on Monday, Sunset snapped back with a 4-0 win, outplaying and outexecuting a Crusader squad that had most of its big guns back in the lineup on Tuesday.

The Apollos scored two momentum-swinging runs in the fourth inning that gave themselves a 3-0 lead, and then added one more for good measure in the sixth. Senior starting pitcher Jake Neeson was fantastic, striking out seven, walking just two and allowing four hits while throwing a complete game gem, versus a loaded Crusader lineup.

For a hurler and a program that’s sparred with Jesuit for years, but rarely come out on the winning side, Neeson said Sunset’s home victory was almost surreal. Rather than thinking about winning, the Apollos believed in each other, and that was what made all the difference.

“There’s no better feeling than beating Jesuit,” said Neeson. “We barely got the JV guys (Monday) and to get these guys like we did, there’s nothing better. We have the ability to surprise a few people, so I think we’re going to make a run in Metro and maybe win it. We’ve just bonded really well this season. We’ve been through a lot of hard times. It’s just brought us closer.”

“We can play with the best,” added senior outfielder Dylan Vazquez. “Jesuit was No. 1 in the state, and we beat ‘em. I think we can take on any team in the state. I’m excited to see how we do the rest of the season and just excited to kill it. We knew we had it in us to win. We just had to stay focused and stick it out.”

Neeson and Jesuit’s Colton French traded punchouts on the mound for three-and-a-half innings with Sunset squeaking ahead 1-0 on a dropped third strike on the Crusaders’ part — one of six Jesuit errors committed on the afternoon.

Sunset centerfielder Chad Maheu set off the deciding fourth with a double to deep right field, and then moved to third on a sac bunt. The right-handed Vazquez followed by socking a one-out, two-bagger on a full count to left-center that scored Maheu and gave Neeson a 2-0 lead.

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset second baseman Justin Silvey turns a double play against Jesuit in the third inning of the Apollos win on Tuesday.

Vazquez said his first couple hacks against French weren’t to his liking, but after fouling off three straight pitches, the senior rightfielder got a fastball right down the pipe and let it rip.

“I just saw it go flying,” said Vazquez. “I can’t even describe how good that felt. It was pretty great.”

Senior designated hitter Mark Iguidbashian grounded into a fielder’s choice that moved Vazquez to third with two outs. Then, junior catcher Nick Pullen pulverized a single to left that rolled under the wickets of the Crusader outfield, scored Vazquez and pushed the advantage to 3-0.

“The big innings are really what’s key to a win,” said Pullen. “Once you string a few hits together, you’re able to score a few runs. That just gives you a ton of momentum, and you’re ready to win once you get a couple across.”

“We just had to keep on persevering and stay focused on each pitch,” added Vazquez. “Every time we came into the dugout we kept saying ‘nine more outs, six more outs, three more outs’ on defense. It just felt good to hear that number decreasing and nothing going up (for Jesuit).”

Jesuit tried to mount a comeback in the sixth, after its most dangerous hitter Evan Haberle led off the stanza with a walk, bringing the threatening Ken Carlson to the dish. Neeson got an inside fastball on the first baseman’s hands, which jammed the Crusader into a tricky chopper to Apollo third baseman Scott Wright.

Running to his left, Wright made an off-balance, one-legged heave to the chest of second baseman Justin Silvey, who briskly transported the ball from glove to hand and turned the double play.

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset third baseman Scott Wright turned a pivotal double play against Jesuit to help pitcher Jake Neeson escape a jam in the fifth inning.

Marco Albanese doubled after the twin killing, but Neeson responded by firing a fastball by French for the third out.

“In games you want to win against good teams like that, you have to make the big play,” said Pullen. “We definitely made those today, and we made more than just that. We made plays we typically don’t make, and you have to do that to get a win.”

After experiencing success working the outer half of the plate in the first inning, Neeson continued to pound the outside with fastballs and dropped in a curveball or two deep in the count.

“He was hitting all his spots and doing what he needed to do to get guys out,” said Pullen. “He wasn’t pitching to strike guys out. But, he was pitching to contact. He let (Jesuit) hit it to our guys and let them make the plays.”

Neeson gave all the credit for his stirring outing to the Apollo defense behind him, applauding the efforts of Sunset’s hardwearing infielders and perceptive outfielders who made clutch plays when the situation called for such.

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Jesuit third baseman Evan Haberle fires a ball to first base for an out against Sunset on Tuesday.

“We just went for it, went all out,” said Wright. “We made some key plays here and there to help Jake get the win.

The Crusaders’ last-gasp retort with two men on the pond in the seventh was snuffed out by Silvey, who made a sliding stop in the hole and flipped it to Jason Dumont for the force out. Neeson struck out Chris Arpan looking, and got Tommy Kaempf to ground out to end the game.

“They were unbelievable today,” said Neeson of his defense. “I was in a couple jams and they got me out of it. Silvey’s diving play was an inning-killer. (Jesuit) had no motivation after that. My defense was there for me today. They got a lot of outs. I’m just going to keep throwing the ball and let them do the work.”

“We knew if (Jesuit) hit it, it was going to come to one of us, but, if not, Jake was going to strike ‘em out,” said Vazquez.



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