Huntington Beach baseball & Oaks Christian of Westlake Village softball have learned that losing in a section playoff game does not mean the season is over. It’s a lesson many teams in other sports that have CIF regional and state competitions have known for many years. Both teams won CIF Division I regional titles on Saturday in games that could both be seen if someone was crazy enough to try to drive from one to the other. Both games also came down to one swing of the bat.
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An opportunity arose on Friday when the scheduled 4 p.m. start of the CIF Southern California Division I regional baseball championship was switched to the earlier start time of 11 a.m. Could it be possible to go to the baseball game and then head out to the 4 p.m. scheduled start of the CIF Southern California Division I regional softball championship?
Well, for someone who has seen CIF Southern Section baseball and softball championships on the same day and night with time for the CIF state track meet in between, it certainly was worth a try.
The baseball game was at JSerra High in San Juan Capistrano as the CIFSS D1 champion Lions were taking on Huntington Beach. Getting there on time from a hotel in Manhattan Beach (near where the Elite 11 Quarterback Regionals are being held on Sunday) only required leaving at a certain time. The trick would be to have a relatively normal timed baseball game followed by post-game interviews and photos so that the approximate one hour drive from JSerra to where the softball game at 4 p.m. was taking place — out at CIFSS D1 champion Roosevelt of Eastvale — could be completed in time.
JSerra and Huntington Beach went to extra innings, but it was 0-0 and not something drawn out like 6-6 or 7-7 and it only went one extra inning. Thanks to the toll roads in Orange County, the drive to Eastvale went smoothly as well. The quest to see both CIF regional finals in Southern California in baseball and softball was successful.
VELAZQUEZ, TORRES LEAD
HUNTINGTON BEACH PAST JSERRA
There wasn’t a graduation or prom or any other conflicting school event for either team that caused the CIF SoCal D1 baseball final between host JSerra of San Juan Capistrano and Huntington Beach to be moved up to 11 a.m. instead of 4 p.m. There was just a desire between the two coaching staffs to do it earlier in the day.
JSerra came in at 25-10 and had moved up to No. 2 in the Cal-Hi Sports state rankings, a deceiving record since the Lions began at 4-9 and had won 21 of 22 against some of the toughest competition in the nation. The Lions won in their earlier games of the week to get to the regional final against Granite Hills of El Cajon (5-2) and Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks (5-4), which is the same team they clipped 3-1 to win their first CIFSS D1 title.
Notre Dame also was the team that knocked out Huntington Beach in the CIFSS D1 semifinals. Both the finalists and semifinalists in that section, however, were advanced to the regionals and as expected all four won in their first-round regional games. The Oilers edged CIF San Diego Section Open Division winner La Costa Canyon in their first game and in the semifinals eliminated state No. 3 Villa Park.
Tyler Gough, a senior going to Oregon State, has been closing in a lot of JSerra’s biggest games recently, and got the start in the final. He allowed a single and a walk among the first three batters he faced but got out of the first inning with a strikeout and pop-up. Gough then got into a rhythm and had 1-2-3 innings in the second, third, fifth and sixth innings. A single in the fourth inning was all that he allowed in a strong outing.
Huntington Beach’s Matthew Lopez, a senior who had a no-hitter earlier this season against Ocean View (Huntington Beach) and will be going next to Northern Kentucky, matched the zeros on the scoreboard by Gough but it was not nearly as easy. He got out of the first inning with a double play and had a strikeout with runners on base to end the second. JSerra also had two on in the fourth but there was another double play.
In the bottom of the sixth, JSerra’s J.J. Hollis drove one into a gap for a one-out double and went to third on an error in the outfield. Lopez then reverted to his skills as an infielder by snagging a hot smash up the middle, looking the runner back to third and then throwing to first for the out. He then recorded the final out by taking command of a popup himself and making the catch.
Huntington Beach had runners on second and third with two outs in the top of the seventh with David Horn now on the mound but didn’t score and then JSerra went quietly in the bottom of the seventh.
In the eighth inning, Matt Champion pitched for JSerra. He struck out the first batter, but then Aidan Espinoza reached safely on an infield hit. Up stepped junior shortstop Ralphie Velazquez, one of the higher ranked junior prospects in the state, who lofted a high fly fall to left that carried and carried right on over the wall for a two-run homer.
UCLA-bound Ben Jacobs then came on to pitch the bottom of the eighth for Huntington Beach. He allowed an infield hit, but got the final out to ignite a celebration with his teammates with a 2-0 win.
To be honest, the Oilers haven’t even been that highly regarded of a CIFSS or state contender even within Orange County. It was JSerra’s Trinity League rivals from Orange Lutheran that was on top of the rankings for almost all of the regular season with Villa Park coming up after it won the SoCal Boras Classic. At the end of the final day, though, it’s head coach Benji Medure’s boys who got to raise the hardware.
“We have that kind of faith in Matthew because he’s done it all year,” said Medure, whose team ended 25-9 and clinched a probable No. 3 final state ranking. “Plus he fielded his spot so well and that saved us.”
As for Velazquez’s homer, Medure added: “I was doing my best Carlton Fisk impersonation. I knew if we got Ralphie up there with a runner on that we had a chance.”
Velazquez, who has committed to Arizona State, said he didn’t know if the ball he hit would clear the fence.
“I knew it had a chance,” he said. “I’m just glad it all worked out. To get the second chance after we lost is what drove us to finish strong. We just kept playing because we didn’t want the season to end.”
Both Madure and JSerra head coach Brett Kay would like the CIF to add a state championship game in baseball like there is for football and basketball.
“It was hard for us to match that energy of winning (the CIFSS) title,” Kay said. “When this game was set up, we knew it was going to be highly competitive. We had our chances earlier and just didn’t get it done.”
OAKS CHRISTIAN ENDS 34-1 SEASON
BY WINNING CIF SOCAL D1 TITLE
The closing innings of the CIF SoCal D1 softball championship were so similar to the final at-bats in the recent CIF Southern Section D1 final. Oaks Christian of Westlake Village wasn’t even in that game, but it was impossible for the Lions not to know what their opponent in Saturday’s game from host Roosevelt of Eastvale had done in its 5-4 triumph over Los Alamitos that gave the school its first CIFSS title.
The Mustangs were trailing by four runs, 4-0, after five innings in that earlier game. They cut it to 4-1 going into their final at-bat and then won it, 5-4, with a four-run rally, including three runs coming with two outs and and the bases loaded on a long single by Emily Carr.
This time, Roosevelt fell behind 6-2 to Oaks Christian. The Mustangs scored three in the bottom of the sixth to slice the margin to 6-5, but with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh they didn’t get that game-winning hit and lost to the Lions, 6-5.
Roosevelt came into Saturday at No. 2 in the state after winning its section title, getting a bye in the first round of the SoCal regionals and won in their regional semifinal on Thursday, 7-4, over Camarillo. Oaks Christian, which was No. 1 in the state and was 31-0 when it lost to Los Alamitos in the CIFSS semifinals, played as the No. 2 seed in the regional bracket after Los Al opted out of the extra playoff games. The Lions won in their earlier games during the week 5-0 over San Marcos and 2-1 on Friday morning over CIFSS D2 champion Mission Viejo.
The other aspect of the game that had many talking about it was how many key players might be missing due to commitments they had to make to their travel ball clubs. Those teams began their seasons this same weekend. All travel ball coaches in Northern California and most of those in Southern California allowed their players to miss one week for the final day of the high school season, but one team that didn’t was Athletics Mercado. This cost Roosevelt two players — sophomore infielder Kaylynn Jones and senior pitcher Priscilla Llamas — and two from Oaks Christian — sophomore pitcher Emelia Davis and junior outfielder Liesl Osteen. With Llamas and Davis out, plus due to other factors, neither team had a back-up pitcher to use. It was going to be Micaela Kastor all the way for the Lions and Alyvia Hernandez of the Mustangs.
Oaks Christian came out swinging effectively as a hard-hit ball by Kastor went for an error and that was followed by a base hit by Rylee McCoy. With two outs, Ilove’a Brittingham came through for the Lions with a two-run single.
Roosevelt didn’t wait long to match Oaks Christian’s two runs in the first inning. An error allowed one runner on base and then with two outs Alexia Lopez launched a home run over the left field fence.
Neither team got a hit in the second inning, then in the top of the third the Lions exploded. Kastor led it off with a double and scored on an RBI single by Anahi Arreola. Lily Knox, a sophomore second baseman, then had the big hit of the game for Oaks Christian by clubbing a two-run homer. The Lions still weren’t done as Brittingham singled, went to second on a fielder’s choice and scored on a single by Heaven Oliva.
Kastor continued to keep the Mustangs off-balance with her screwball and other assortment of pitches. That first-inning homer by Lopez was Roosevelt’s only hit until it came up in the bottom of the sixth, trailing 6-2.
With one out, there was a pop up not caught that went for an error that instead of an out turned into an infield hit. The Mustangs then proceeded to load the bases on a walk and a hit batter. Natalie Serrano then came through for Roosevelt with a two-run single. The rally continued with an RBI single by Emily Carr, but on that play Oaks Christian got an out at third base. A strikeout by Kastor then ended the inning.
After the Lions could not add on in the top of the seventh, Roosevelt’s chances looked bleak in the bottom of the seventh after Kastor got the first two outs. But the Mustangs still weren’t done. Jasmine Goins walked with the team down to its last strike, then in the same situation Ashlee Annett hit a grounder up the middle for a single. Jordan Elias was the next batter, who again battled to the last strike and again it didn’t happen for Kastor with another ball four. Kayla Lyon was up next for Roosevelt (one of its leading hitters) and with the bases loaded in which a single would likely win the game for the Mustangs it was Kastor who had the last laugh with a called third strike to end the game.
“It took my breath away, but I had to stick with what works to get through it,” Kastor said of the final pitches of a high school career she’ll remember for the rest of her life. “Honestly, in those times, I talk to God and that calms me down.”
Both Kastor and head coach Pete Ackermann, a former State Coach of the Year who has more than 650 all-time wins, also talked about how their team was able to bounce back from that earlier CIFSS semifinal loss to Los Alamitos.
“We just fell short in a game we didn’t play well,” said Kastor, a leading Ms. Softball State Player of the Year candidate who will play next at Notre Dame. “It was only right that we got to show through the extra games what we could do. I think most people got the matchup they wanted to see today.”
“They got the CIF(SS) title, but this was our championship win,” Ackermann said. “For the season we were having to be put down by a 4-0 loss just didn’t sit right. We just didn’t show up on that day. It all worked out great this week.”
Roosevelt head coach Mike Smith, also a former State Coach of the Year from a previous season when he was at Chino High, will never forget the seniors on the team who were the first group he started with when he began coaching at Roosevelt four years ago.
“They fought all year and they all had the belief they could win at the end,” he said. “After being down like we were, then to have our best hitter up with the bases loaded, that’s where you want to be. She was thinking change-up, but their pitcher just got her.”
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