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PAUL RODRIGUEZ , STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Aliso Niguel pitcher Zak Nocon delivers a pitch against El Toro during Friday's game.

Aliso Niguel leans on Nocon, strong defense to edge No. 3 El Toro

STAFF WRITER

LAKE FOREST – Aliso Niguel took advantage of the opposition’s mistakes and its own good pitching Friday to beat El Toro, 3-2, in a South Coast League baseball opener at El Toro on Friday.

Zak Nocon pitched 6 2/3 innings to get the win, and two of the runs for the Wolverines were unearned.

Aliso Niguel, No. 6 in the Orange County top 10, is 6-2 overall. No. 3 El Toro is 6-2.

El Toro had won six in a row, including last week’s 3-1 win over Aliso Niguel in the Loara Tournament championship game.

Aliso Niguel had only three hits.

“But,” Wolverines coach Craig Hanson said, “we played good defense and we didn’t give up any freebies. Zak kept us in the game and we made some great defensive plays to keep us in the game.”

One of those great plays was made by Aliso left fielder William Nguyen. With the score tied, 1-1, and a Chargers runner on second base with two outs, El Toro’s Stone Shiffman drove the ball deep into the left-center field gap. Nguyen retreated for it and made a falling, over-the-shoulder catch at the warning track.

Nguyen has made a few such highlight plays already this season.

“He’s got some speed,” Hanson said. “He’s going to get to some balls.”

Nocon is 4-0 with a 1.83 ERA.

“Zak got stronger as the game went on,” Hanson said. “Once he established his curve and his changeup, he was a lot better.”

Aliso Niguel scored in the first inning. Senior catcher Blake Sabol led off and wound up at second base on a two-base error. Connor Kokx sacrificed Sabol to third. Hunter Jump hit a high chopper that was fielded by El Toro pitcher Noah Fluman, whose throw to the plate was too late to get Sabol.

The Chargers tied the score in the second inning. Gavin Garcia led off with a single, advanced to second base on Geoffrey Negrete’s sacrifice bunt and scored on Jake Jackson’s single.

With two outs in the Aliso sixth inning, Sabol and Kokx were hit by pitches on back-to-back at bats. Sabol scored from second on Jump’s bad-hop single to the right side. Kokx scored on an error to make it 3-1.

In the seventh, Shiffman hit a two-out solo home run. After Kenny Oyama followed with a single, Ethan Butka replaced Nocon on the mound.

El Toro’s Nathan Church sent an infield dribbler that Aliso first baseman Zach Bowman collected and tossed underhand to Butka, who made the catch and extended his right foot to the base barely in time to get Church for the game’s final out.

Nocon changed his grip on his changeup Friday while warming up in the bullpen.

“It’s one of those pitcher things,” Sabol said. “I told him, ‘You know, you need to keep doing that because it’s working.’”

Aliso Niguel next week plays league games against No. 7 Tesoro and Dana Hills.

El Toro has league games next week against Capistrano Valley and Dana Hills.

Contact the writer: sfryer@ocregister.com


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