Arlington Baseball Making This Postseason Experience Stick

IMAGE COURTESY ARLINGTON BASEBALL

It’s been a season Tim Kleveno didn’t expect, so Riverside Arlington’s fifth-year coach is making the most of it.

Led by only three seniors, the best projections had the Lions’ season ending with a loss in the CIF-Southern Section quarter- or semi-finals.

Now just two wins away from a CIF State Regional title, Kleveno is leading a team defying the odds.

“I never thought this would happen, what they’re doing now,” said Kleveno, who has won 74 games at Arlington. “I think this experience is huge for future years. Did I know that this would happen? No. I think the camaraderie and the chemistry amongst the group (is) why we’ve had this run. I was thinking, ‘If we can get them a couple games of experience and maybe next year and in future years make a run.’ I didn’t think we’d play for a CIF title or be here this year.”

6-foot-4 sophomore Andrew Rudd hurled an easy-looking three-hitter, and Arlington applied pressure on offense until its opponent cracked in an eventual 7-0 victory over San Diego Point Loma on Tuesday in a CIF State Regional Division III quarterfinal round game.

Rudd did not walk a batter and struck out seven in a complete-game shutout for Arlington (22-12 overall), which advances to play Newhall Hart at home on Thursday.

“I was just trying to attack and get first-pitch strikes, and I was able to get some key outs in big situations,” said Rudd, who faced just one batter above the minimum on 83 pitches. “This is awesome. This season is still alive and that’s what we’ve wanted.”

Jayden Sanchez had three hits, two stolen bases and scored twice as the Lions bounced back from their 2-0 loss to Long Beach Millikan in the CIF-Southern Section Division II championship game on Friday, June 18.

Sophomore catcher Jack Kleveno threw out a runner trying to steal in the second inning, and made the game-ending tag at the plate to finish the shutout.

“This is really, really good for us. We only have three seniors so we’re trying to do this for them and keep their season alive for as long as we can,” said Jack Kleveno, who had an RBI single in the sixth and finished with two RBIs.

Kleveno has started every game behind the plate for Arlington this season, and currently bats third in the lineup.

“I think his confidence level – playing with the older kids this past summer in Arizona – has helped him a lot (and) we’re getting the offensive piece with him now, too, and he’s coming up at big times,” Tim Kleveno said.

It’s an instinctive combination – manager and catcher – that has roots at Arlington dating back more than 20 years to when Tim Kleveno was an infielder for the Lions from 1993-’96.

Jack Kleveno is compact and sharp with his movements behind the plate. He’s solid in the block, his throwing motion is quick and his accuracy is lethal.

“He’s really taken hold of the pitching staff. He hones those guys in, and he’s really taken charge,” Tim Kleveno said.

Kleveno continues to lead the team in hits and currently is the only Arlington player with a NCAA Division I commitment, verballing to University of Hawaii ahead of the spring semester.

Senior Joe Alegre, a pitcher/first baseman, is headed to Erskine College, a NCAA Division II school outside of Greenville, SC. Alegre hit a three-run home run to help Arlington win its CIF-SS semifinal and advance to the program’s first title game since 2004.

The teams’ other seniors, Andrew Martin and Conner Sigsbee, have been accepted to UCLA and UC Riverside, respectively, for their academics. While not recruited, it’s likely that the two CIF finalists will pursue walk-on opportunities.

After that it’s nine juniors and eight sophomores that make up the Lions 2021 roster, and it’ll be a group with a ton of pressurized postseason experience and success under their belts like the red clay that sticks there after a head-first slide into second base.

And all from a season no one expected.

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