In need of a win to secure just its second playoff berth in program history, Central Valley High School’s baseball coaching staff with input from Hawk players named fourth-year standout Gabrial Lopez starting pitcher for last Wednesday’s league game against Golden Valley.
The San Francisco State bound right-hander delivered in impressive fashion.
Lopez tossed a no-hitter as the Hawks held on for a 2-1 victory over the Cougars in Central California Conference play on Wednesday in Ceres.
“The main thing that helped me is I felt trusted on the mound by my coaches and teammates,” Lopez said. “I couldn’t let them down. That’s the mindset I had going into the game.”
“It was one of the biggest games in our school’s history,” Central Valley head coach Derrick Goblirsch said. “It felt right to send Gabrial out there. Obviously, it turned out to be a good decision.
Lopez recorded 13 strikeouts versus Golden Valley.
He allowed one run with two walks in seven innings.
“I wanted the start more than anything,” Lopez said. “It was the biggest game in program history. I had a different type of focus. I was able to visualize what I wanted to happen before it happened.”
Hawk catcher Miguel Espinoza, who returned from a wrist injury, played a key role in helping Lopez notch his second career no-hitter.
“I wouldn’t have had the day I had without him,” Lopez said. “It’s my best performance in high school. I felt so comfortable with all of my pitches. I had more zip on my fastball. It complemented my curveball and changeup well.”
“Gabrial is so hard on himself,” Goblirsch said. “He’s always trying to improve. That’s gotten him to where he is.”
Central Valley compiled a 13-13 overall record and finished fourth overall in the CCC standings with a 6-6 mark during the regular season.
The top four teams in league advanced to the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
“It’s a huge milestone,” Lopez said. “It’s only our second time in program history going to playoffs. It was the expectation for us. The fact that we barely made it is kind of disappointing. We had to fight for every game this year.”
“I’m happy for our guys,” Goblirsch said. “We set that goal for ourselves at the beginning of the year. It’s not as easy as it seems.”
Lopez received just enough run support as he improved his pitching record to 6-5.
The Hawks increased their lead to 2-0 in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Edmund Stewart scored what proved to be the winning run on a two-strike sacrifice fly to center from Roman Aguinaga.
“Roman had a great at-bat,” Lopez said. “He did what he was supposed to do.”
“He (Aguinaga) put the ball in play and found a way to get the job done,” Goblirsch added. “It turned out to be a huge run.”
Central Valley grabbed a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth inning.
Garret Garcia drew a two-out walk and scored on Ryan Estermann’s double off the right-center wall.
Lopez was named Game 1 starter the day before the CCC finale series got underway.
“It was a win-win situation,” Lopez said. “I had confidence if the game didn’t go as planned Chris (Garcia) would have shut the door on Friday.”
Central Valley closed out the CCC season with a 13-3 win over sixth-place Golden Valley in five innings on May 6 in Merced.
Freshman southpaw Chris Garcia (5-4) surrendered no runs and no hits with three strikeouts and one walk in 21/3 innings.
He batted 1-for-3 from the plate with one RBI and two runs.
Lopez batted 3-for-3 with four RBIs and two runs.
Garret Garcia batted 2-for-3 with two RBIs and one run.
Estermann batted 2-for-3 with one RBI and two runs.
Stewart batted 2-for-3 with two RBIs.
Caiden Whittle batted 2-for-3 with one RBI and one run.
Espinoza batted 1-for-3 with one RBI and one run.
Samuel Wilson batted 1-for-4 with one double and one run.
Aguinaga scored three times.
The Hawks return to the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs following an eight-year absence.
“We can’t be satisfied just getting there,” Goblirsch said. “We want to make some noise.”