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Knights loss a learning experience
Ripon Christian first baseman Jon Vander Molen watched the ball into his mitt during Wednesdays loss to Woodland Christian at the Ripon Christian Tournament. - photo by JOHN-JOEL GRIFFITHS

RIPON – John De Visser turned Wednesday afternoon’s clash with Woodland Christian into an Abbott and Costello skit.

Who’s on first?

Who’s in left field?

Uh, who’s the little guy pitching?

“Did you see what we did there?” the Ripon Christian coach asked, peeking out at his official scorer at the start of the fourth inning.

With Woodland Christian out in front comfortably and pointed toward a 9-0 victory, De Visser opted to use the final innings as teaching moments for his young club.

So he moved players around the diamond and dug deep into his bullpen, finishing the game with three lower-level call-ups.

There was a bit of gamesmanship involved, too. De Visser realizes that his team – unbeaten in Southern League play – might see Woodland Christian (6-5) again in May in a playoff setting.

With that in mind, he wasn’t going to give the Cardinal coaching staff a complete scouting report.

“Today was a tricky game,” De Visser said. “We might see these guys again in the playoffs, so I didn’t want to show them too much.

“At the same time, it was a good opportunity to get some young guys into the game; to get some time against a quality team.”

The Cardinals had the look of section contender with junior Anthony Castaneda on the bump.

The 6-foot-5 right-hander casts a large shadow. He struck out 10 in six innings, guiding Woodland Christian to a perfect opening round at the Ripon Christian Tournament.

The Cardinals sit atop the standings in this jamboree-style tournament at 2-0. Ripon Christian and Millennium are 1-1, while Modesto Christian is 0-2.

The Knights (7-6-1) beat Millennium 3-0 in their opener on Wednesday on the strength of Nelson. The senior cleanup hitter spotted two doubles into the right-center field gap, including a two-run knock.

“Mechanically, he’s pretty sound,” De Visser said of Nelson. “For the last four or five weeks, we’ve been working on approach. What are you looking for? Where do you want to put it? We’ve taken some of his swing out and he’s finding more barrels. He’s still got that pop, though.”

Nelson continued to swing a hot bat against Castaneda. He just didn’t have much help.

Castaneda moved through the Knights’ lineup with a zip fastball that tantalized the radar gun in the stands. The only resistance came from Nelson and Josh English, who combined for four of Ripon Christian’s five hits.

Nelson reached base safely in all three plate appearances and appeared poised to score the Knights’ first run each time. However, he was left at third by Castaneda in the second, fourth and sixth innings.

“That is a prospect arm right there,” De Visser said, complimenting the Cardinals’ ace.

Woodland Christian took early control of the game with a five-run first inning. Three of the first four batters reached base. Chase Canevari highlighted the flurry with a two-run single off starter Chris Saenz.

With the game slipping away from his team, De Visser began to tinker with his lineup. He moved Nelson from backstop to first, plugged Saenz into shortstop and went to the freshest faces in the bullpen.

He got quality innings from three lower-level players – freshman Travis Zuidervaart and sophomore Billy Marr and Conner McGovern.

Just tall enough to see over the dugout railing, Zuidervaart allowed one unearned run in his only innings. Marr, coming off a four-year hiatus, struck out two in two shutout innings. McGovern pitched around a leadoff walk in the seventh.

Ripon Christian will play Modesto Christian today. First pitch is at 4.