Who’s No. 1 in CIFSS Baseball?

El Toro players react after receiving CIF Southern Section title patches and having team photo taken at Dodger Stadium on Friday. Photo: Mark Tennis.

Etiwanda wins D2 title and finishes 27-3 with 26 wins in its final 27 games. El Toro wins D1 crown and ends at 27-7-1 overall. No one argues that D2 is equal D1 in the section in terms of competitive strength, but at what point does a team with a better record deserve to be ranked higher and how much of a difference is it? Go inside to see how these teams got it done this season and on Friday night at Dodger Stadium.

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For most of the last three months of the 2017 season, the Etiwanda High baseball team has been known for its thunderous batting lineup, including those back-to-back games in which both Steve Rivas and Chris Jimenez hit for the cycle.

Etiwanda head coach Don Furnald points to crowd after receiving CIFSS D2 title plaque. Photo: Mark Tennis.

But in Friday afternoon’s CIF Southern Section Division II championship at Dodger Stadium, the Eagles had to be more creative. They scored two unearned runs in the first inning and made that stand up in a 2-1 win over Palm Desert.

Facing UCLA-bound Palm Desert senior Jeremiah Estrada, Etiwanda actually only had one hit after the first inning. But head coach Don Furnald’s team did enough and captured the school’s first section title. The Eagles lost in the 2011 Division II final.

“It is tough to compare D1 and D2 down here, but D1 and D2 in California is about the best that there is in the United States,” said Furnald, who has been the head coach at Etiwanda for seven seasons. “Once we figured out what we could do on offense, we won 26 of 27 and we play year-in, year-out in a quality league. Our only expectations this year was to win league and we exceeded all of that.”

Etiwanda’s pitching on the day was not too shabby, either. Senior Vincent Mughannem allowed four hits in 3.2 innings and then came out for junior Tyler Bardowell, who inherited runners on second and third with two outs in the fourth and then ended Palm Desert’s threat by striking out Dylan Silver.

With the win, the Eagles wrapped up a 27-3 season and in their semifinal game of the bracket earlier this week they beat a St. John Bosco (Bellflower) team 5-2 that won the D1 Trinity League and perhaps would have been as high as a No. 2 seed in the D1 bracket.

“Even in the preseason, we played a lot of D1 teams and next year no doubt they’re going to be D1,” said graduating senior Tyler Freeman, who drove in Etiwanda’s first run with an RBI single in that first inning. “We got a chip on our shoulder when we weren’t ranked high earlier in the season and then after we beat Bosco that got us going for this game.”

Freeman’s hit came after leadoff hitter Jimenez drove a single to start the top of the first for the Eagles and went to third on a throwing error. With Rivas at third at one out, freshman Matt Bardowell then hit a grounder that wasn’t turned for a double play. That allowed Rivas to score the second run.

Tyler Freeman was top fielder at shortstop and No. 3 hitter all season for Etiwanda. Photo: Mark Tennis.

Palm Desert, which finished 23-8 and was making its fifth trip to a CIFSS final under longtime head coach Darol Salazar, scored its only run earlier in the fourth inning before Tyler Bardowell entered the game. It came on a RBI single by Sammy Diaz after a triple by Austin Bartlett. Anthony Boetto then doubled that also put Diaz at third, but the Aztecs couldn’t get the tying run.

Etiwanda had a great chance to pad its lead in the sixth inning that started with a leadoff single by Rivas. The Eagles eventually loaded the bases with one out and Estrada had to leave the game due to reaching his pitch count limit, but Sacramento State-bound Travis Adams then came on and got out of the jam by getting Brad Massaro to hit into a double play.

“Our whole goal for today was to score in the first and then build momentum from there,” said Tyler Freeman, who will play next at TCU. “We didn’t get much done after that, but you have to credit Jeremiah for that. This win just means everything for us.”

Tyler and his younger brother, Cody, a sophomore who has committed to Baylor, formed what had to be one of the top double-play combos in the state. The fact that this may have been the last time to two will play together was not lost on either one.

“You can’t write a better ending,” Tyler added. “He will take my spot next year at shortstop and he will fill my shoes.”

Division I:

When asked if there was a turning point in what turned out to be a CIF Southern Section Division I title season for the El Toro baseball team, more than one person pointed out to how the team fared at the Boras Classic. Sure, there was a one-run loss to an Orange Lutheran team that was surging in the national rankings at the time, but ironically one of the wins was a 1-0 victory over Corona.

The Panthers turned out to be the Chargers’ foe in Friday’s final at Dodger Stadium and the result was similar. The 4-0 title triumph gave El Toro is second section title (the first was in 2008) and a 27-7-1 record. The team also ended with 14 wins in its last 15 games.

After his last two outings, Jake Jackson has become a Mr. Baseball State Player of the Year candidate. Photo: Mark Tennis.

“We started out 3-4-1, but went on a bit of a roll once we started putting our bats together,” said Chargers’ head coach Mike Gonzalez. “We always knew we could pitch and play defense.”

Matching the accomplishment of Etiwanda in the earlier game at Dodger Stadium of being the higher-ranked team getting the win, El Toro’s outing featured more hard-hit balls and the best pitching performance of the night by senior Jake Jackson.

Corona didn’t get its first hit off Jackson until two outs in the third and then after the second hit, a one-out double in the fifth by Hunter Collins, Jackson promptly struck out the next two batters to end the threat. Jackson then had a 1-2-3 inning in the sixth and in the seventh he induced a double-play grounder to end the game.

“He was phenomenal,” Gonzalez said. “All his pitches were working. He was able to locate, in and out. Against a good offensive team, he was able to pitch down in the zone.”

Jackson, who had a one-hitter in his previous start and was the Cal-Hi Sports SoCal Player of the Week, wrapped up a 12-1 season on the mound and lowered his ERA to below 0.66.

“We did kind of flip the switch in that time when we played (Corona) before,” said Jackson, who struck out five in his three-hitter. “Then we started winning games in our conference and after that got on a complete roll.”

Jackson’s current teammate and his future teammate at the University of Nevada, Josh Zamora, also had a big night. Zamora drove in El Toro’s first run on a double to the wall in the first inning after two-out walk to Erik Tolman. Zamora then scored the second run on an ensuing RBI single by Tyler Lasch.

The Chargers scored two more runs in the top of the second. Zamora completed the rally by hitting a sacrifice fly with the first run coming in off of a single by Tolman.

Corona starting pitcher Michael Hobbs, who had a no-hitter earlier in the playoffs against Orange Lutheran, was taken out in that second inning and was replaced by Dane Baker. Baker gave up two hits but kept the Chargers off the scoreboard for the rest of the night.

“It’s just a brutal bracket to get through,” Gonzalez said. “Some say it’s the best in the country and to be on top of it says a lot about the character of this group. They really cared for each other to get through it.”

Both Etiwanda and El Toro will have to wait to see what happens in the CIF San Diego Section Open Division final to be played on Saturday between Eastlake of Chula Vista (31-5) and Helix of La Mesa (22-10). If Eastlake wins, then the Titans will be the No. 1 team in the final state rankings. If Eastlake loses, then the spot opens up. Etiwanda was the higher ranked team compared to El Toro coming into the week, but it’s never final until it’s final.

Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at markjtennis@gmail.com. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports

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