Garcia leads rising Downey team to victory over Pitman

Kreg Moore was looking to the future when he decided to bat sophomore Gabe Garcia cleanup, but the future has come early for Downey High.

The Knights, using a lineup loaded with sophomores and juniors, have already won as many games as the last two years combined and lead the Modesto Metro Conference.

"Gabe struggled at the plate last summer, but we feel he's going to be our cleanup hitter the next three years," Moore said. "We like his aggressiveness. If he sees a good pitch early, he'll take a swing at it."

Garcia showed his aggressive nature Tuesday, rapping three hits as Downey routed Pitman 10-2 in a battle between the first-place teams in the Modesto Metro and Central California conferences.

With both teams throwing aces — Pitman's Clay Cozzitorto (4-1, 1.51 ERA) vs. Cody Simar (4-1, 1.59) — it was the showcase game of the Windemuth Classic and had all the makings of a low-scoring day.

Neither junior made it out of the fourth inning, though:

Cozzitorto, who threw at least five innings in his first six starts, gave up seven runs in three innings. Garcia's RBI double keyed a three-run first and Simar's RBI single triggered a four-run third.

Simar looked to be headed to another strong outing — he has not allowed more than two earned runs in any of his six games — before taking a liner off his right foot. He was helped off the field and X-rays revealed only a deep bruise.

"It's going to be sore a few days, but we hope to get him back next week," Moore said.

Pitman (12-5, No. 3 in The Bee's large-school poll) had loaded the bases on two singles and a walk. Hayden Baldwin's smash KO'd Simar and drove in a run, but Downey catcher Bryce Nakai made sure that was all that Pitman would score in the fourth.

A.J. Derr tried to get home from third when a pitch from Kyle Robinson sailed to the backstop, but Nakai got the ricochet and met Derr at the plate for the out. A groundout to first base ended the fourth.

Simar, who retired the first 10 batters, teamed with Robinson (2-0) on a five-hitter with no walks. Robinson, part of a deep bullpen, faced just one batter in the previous month.

"Logan (Garrett) is usually first out of the bullpen, but he started Monday," said Moore, noting Garrett had thrown a shutout. "Kyle, like our other pitchers, stays out of trouble by throwing strikes. We don't want to give up free passes."

Downey didn't benefit from many walks, but with Garcia and Garrett (3-for-3) combining for six hits, the Knights generated their own scoring.

"Gabe has lots of promise," Moore said. "He hit a big homer off (Davis ace) Jake Sisco two weeks ago, so he's not a typical sophomore. He needs to stay confident and not be too selective to hit cleanup."

It was the eighth win in the last nine games for Downey (11-4 and ranked No. 4). A win today over Redwood Christian will give the Knights a spot in Thursday's title game.