Western Slams Its Way To Victory Against Flanagan
The Western Wildcats (4-1) continued their hot start to the 2023 season on Thursday night with an 8-3 victory over the Flanagan Falcons (3-3) at home.
The Wildcats jumped out to an early lead thanks to a grand slam from starting shortstop Danny Ortega in the second inning. It was Ortega’s fourth dinger in five games for Western, which is good enough for the state lead in home runs. After going up 7-0 through two, Western never really looked back and cruised to the win.
“I knew it was gone off the bat,” Ortega said. “I just wanted to put my team on the board early, you know, so we were comfortable and the pitchers could come out and shove and do their thing.”
Wildcats manager Onel Garcia said he saw this kind of performance coming from his No. 2 bat in the lineup. In fact, Garcia asked him before the game if No. 4 was on its way tonight, so Ortega naturally shot his skipper a look as he rounded the bags and headed towards a swarm at home plate.
“He’s a very underrated player,” Garcia said of Ortega. “He didn’t play a lot of travel ball so a lot of people don’t know him, but his pop is pretty special. The ball comes off of his bat differently than everybody else. In batting practice, he hits them out all over the park here. He’s got four home runs already and I think he’s just going to keep going.”
Garcia said he liked the way his team attacked early at the plate, and it resulted in a short first start of the season for Flanagan starter Bryan Leon. Ortega actually got the scoring going in the first with an RBI double off Leon, and the Wildcats strung together an error and a pair of singles in the second to start the rally. Ortega’s big fly was the final blow, and left-hander Richard Bello took over for Leon in relief.
“He’s been really good in relief,” Flanagan manager Noel Figueroa said regarding Leon. “He hadn’t started any games yet, but in relief, he’s done really, really well. But today he didn’t have it. He went in there, he got behind and walked the first batter in each inning. Walking the first guy, that’s a recipe for disaster. But he’ll bounce back.”
Bello gave up one run in the third on a bases-loaded hit by pitch, but that was the only other run Western scored over the rest of the night. Senior right-hander Joey Roberts pitched the final two innings for Flanagan and struck out four while walking just two and allowing a base hit. Figueroa said he would have liked to use Roberts in a situation where the team had the lead, but the Falcons only put up four hits all night.
Flanagan’s lone scoring inning of the evening came in the third when Western starter and Nova Southeastern commit Alex Pena slipped up. After a dominant start to the night, Pena snowballed following an error to kick off the frame. A single and pair of walks brought in a free run for Flanagan, and a fielder’s choice scored another.
Garcia was already planning on a brief night for Pena—Western keeps its top arms on a 50-pitch limit or so early on in the season — but he went to the bullpen after just 38 pitches and 2 1/3 innings from Pena. Freshman left-hander Mason McGeehan took over for Pena and lasted through the sixth, striking out four and surrendering just a walk and a hit over 3 2/3 innings.
“There’s definitely some pressure just because I’m young,” McGeehan said of an outing such as Thursday’s. “But, I’ve grown to get used to it, and I’ve had a couple of good outings, so I think I’m getting a feel for it.”
Garcia said that McGeehan looked like a senior out there and admitted that he’s one of the team’s best arms. He certainly got the job done for Western. The Wildcats turned to right-hander Zach Beyra to close things out in the seventh, and he got the job done despite loading the bases.
Flanagan now has two losses at the hands of Western through six games this year, and there might not be a chance at revenge for the Falcons. A district playoff matchup could provide a game three with much higher stakes, but that’s far down the road.
Although it didn’t go the Falcons’ way, Figueroa is still optimistic about the future of his ball club. The team’s biggest strength didn’t come through in this one, but the Falcons are still a young team searching for some consistency on the mound. Figueroa has confidence that his staff will find it.
“I think our team is good,” Figueroa said. “Our team is good. We need to build on maturity. We need to build on confidence. If we can do those things, our team is really going to respond in the end, and I’m fully 100% confident that’s going to happen. Our pitching, we can throw. Our pitching will throw strikes. Today we didn’t, but out pitching can get people out. Let’s see what happens.
For Western, things are going pretty well to start the season, but it doesn’t get easier from here.
“The first game, we didn’t play that good,” Garcia said. “It was a tight game that we ended up losing late, but I like where we’re at now. We’ve won four in a row, and we have Columbus next week and they are a very good team. But in this day and age, you have to play a really tough schedule so you can stay in the mix. Hopefully, we can keep playing this well.”