Fernandez drives Scanlan to CHSAA 'A' crown
Albert Fernandez remembers standing at the plate against St. John’s Prep with a chance to be the hero in the CHSAA Class A title game. But instead he watched as a fastball caught the outside corner, ending the game.
It was a memory Fernandez took with him right up until his final at-bat in the seventh inning Sunday afternoon back at Kaiser Stadium, back in the title game, against the Red Storm once again.
“I really didn’t want to strike out again,” Fernandez said. “I didn’t want to let my team down again because last year I felt I let them down. I really did try hard to push myself to get that walk-off.”
Fernandez again saw an outside fastball, but this time he chopped it through the hole between shortstop and third base to lead Monsignor Scanlan to a dramatic 3-2 victory in the CHSAA Class A championship game.
It is the Crusaders second title in three years, an emotional victory for Fernandez, starting pitcher Christian Lozano and first baseman Michael Soto – a senior core known as the “Big Three.”
“It’s my last year,” said Lozano as he fought back tears. “The big three – me, Albert and Michael Soto – have been playing together since freshman year. It’s crazy. We always wanted this…We’re bringing it back home to Scanlan.”
It was especially meaningful for Fernandez, who has been tormented by last year’s missed opportunity at the plate for a year.
“It bothered me until I guess that at-bat right there,” said Fernandez, who said he teared up as he reached first. “I never wanted to make the last out, but it happened, I got over it and now I’m at a better place.”
There was no one Scanlan coach Keith Del Valle said he wanted to see in that situation than Fernandez, who was 3-for-4 with two RBIs on Sunday. He vowed to Fernandez after last year’s game to put him in the same situation this year. That became a reality with two outs and pinch runner Brian Cantero at third.
“To be honest, I wanted Albert at the plate, nobody else, Albert,” Del Valle said. “He needed it…I wouldn’t trade him in for anybody.”
While Del Valle followed through on his promise, Fernandez said he went against what Del Valle preaches to get the game-winning hit.
“My coach always told me to go opposite field, but this is the first time I didn’t listen and found a hole between short and third and I took it right through that hole,” he said.
It was also a personally satisfying victory for Del Valle, whose older brother Kevin last guided the Crusaders to the title before leaving to coach at Salesian.
“I just had to get it done just to calm the heckling down at the dinner table,” Keith said.
After Edwin Vidal drove in Jorge Rodriguez with a double to left in the top of the first to give St. John’s Prep (8-8) a 1-0 lead, Fernandez tied the score for top-seeded Monsignor Scanlan (11-4) when he drove in Joel Paulino with a single up the middle in the bottom of the inning.
The Crusaders had chances to tack onto their advantage, but three times Red Storm right fielder Mike Aspenleiter fired home to get an out, including a wild double play on one throw in the fifth when catcher Edwin Vidal tagged out Paulino and Brian Mulgrew at the plate.
Lozano held No. 6 St. John’s Prep at bay, allowing just two more hits through the next five innings. He gave up one run on four hits, striking out five with no walks when Del Valle pulled him for Paulino in the seventh.
Scanlan was in a position to win because Aspenleiter dropped what would have been the third out in the sixth and Ruban Collazo, who was hit by a pitch in three consecutive at-bats, came around to score from second.
However, Paulino struggled with his control, loading the bases on back-to-back walks and a single up the middle by Mike Perez. An error allowed the Red Storm to score the tying run.
St. John’s starter Gabe Adams quickly got the first two outs in the bottom of the seventh before hitting Mulgrew with a pitch. Pinch runner Cantero stole second and reached third on a wild pitch, setting up Fernandez for the biggest – and final – hit of his high school career.
“I’m so proud of all my seniors,” Del Valle said. “They graduated on Friday and this was just the topping of the cake.”
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