Eastern, N.J., quiets Malibu bats

MALIBU -- It took a team from Voorhees, N.J., and a junior pitcher from the East Coast to silence the booming Malibu bats.

Eastern from New Jersey shut out Malibu, 4-0, behind a four-hitter from Connor Travis, who was making his first varsity start.

Malibu came into the game hitting .382 as a team and averaging 8.4 runs per game. The four hits were a season low for Malibu. Eastern is the first team to shut out Malibu this season.

Malibu starter Matt Gruskin matched Travis through the first three innings. Neither team scored until the top of the fourth.

Eastern took a 2-0 lead on a errant throw into left field on a stolen base attempt and a sacrifice fly. Gruskin was the hard-luck loser, giving up two runs on only three hits in six innings.

“It was typical high school game when you got two good guys going,” Malibu coach Ari Jacobs said. “There are going to be low-scoring games. We break down games into three tiers: offense, defense and pitching. Our defense and pitching did a pretty good job today. It was 2-0 in the sixth inning and [Gruskin] put us in a chance to win the game. Offense, our timing was off just a bit today. Baseball’s a precision thing and you can see it took a toll on us a little bit.”

Eastern scored two more runs in the top of the seventh inning. Steve Priolo hit a solo home run to lead off the inning. Tylor Love followed with a walk and came around to score an insurance run.

Eastern went 2-2 against teams from Southern California. The Vikings beat Crescenta Valley, 9-8 in extra innings, in the Babe Herman tournament and lost to Santa Monica and Valley Christian. They were supposed to play Redondo Union as well, but the game was rained out on Wednesday.

Malibu (12-4) was playing its first game in eight days. The team is on spring break and hasn’t played since April 4, a 7-6 loss to Linfield Christian in the San Diego Lions Tournament.

The long break affected Malibu’s hitters, Jacobs said. Gruskin had the only extra-base hit for Malibu, a two-out double in the first inning.

Mark Stevenson singled in the fourth inning and Hunter Johnson singled with two outs in the bottom of the seventh.

Malibu second baseman Jordan Simon led off the fourth inning with a bunt single and extended his hitting streak to 19 games. He has collected at least one hit in all 16 games for Malibu this season and ended his junior season with a three-game streak.

“Starting in my freshman year to right now, I’ve learned who I am as a baseball player,” Simon said. “I always thought I was this big, bomb hitter. Go up and hit home runs and triples. Now I come into my senior year, I’ve realized my game, my size, I’m fast, so it’s small ball. Ground balls, beat them out.”

He leads the team with a .507 batting average with five doubles and three triples. He went 5-for-5 and drove in four runs against Oaks Christian on March 23. He has collected at least four hits in a game three times and has 11 multi-hit games this season.

“My approach at the plate is going up there and having good, strong mental hacks and preparing myself,” said Simon, the left-handed hitting senior who’s headed to Nevada Reno in the fall. “I don’t think about it too much.”

Simon used his speed to keep his hitting streak alive. Bunting for base hits and moving runners is a strategy Jacobs wants all his players to use.

“There’s a term for being able to bunt: It’s called a slump-buster,” Jacobs said. “For him personally, it’s a great tool to have, especially with his speed. For us as a team, it’s something I stress for every person in the lineup to have, not just for personal success, but for us as a team here. There are so many good pitchers here, and a lot of games are 2-1, 3-2, you have to be able to do these things to win games.”

Malibu has one more game to jump start its offense before resuming Tri-Valley League play. Malibu is scheduled to play Santa Paula on Friday.

Jacobs said he has faith that his team’s explosive offense will return.

“We’ve gone up against top-notch pitchers and we can put up runs against anybody,” Jacobs said. “Today our timing was off and we didn’t get bunts down. We just didn’t have a lot of production today.”