Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Bonita Baseball Plays in CIF Division 3 Championship Game

Congratulations to the Bonita High School Varsity Baseball Team. On Saturday, June 5, 2010, they played in the CIF Division 3 Championship Game. My Compadre (Sergio) & I made the trip to Lake Elsinore to watch this very exciting game. Below is a news article, courtesy of La Verne Online, summarizing the game...

While Bonita was trying to play long ball, the ballpark wasn’t cooperating. Meanwhile, Ocean View pushed across a run in the second and another in third, neither RBI coming by virtue of a base hit, but the two runs were enough to edge the Bearcats, 2-1, and steal a little luster from their otherwise amazing 24-5-1 season that saw them play farther into the season than any Bearcats team in 36 years.

Here’s a closer look at how events unfolded. The first inning was a carbon copy of the Bearcats’ season, which had been a model of efficiency and production. On the first pitch from Seahawks’ starter Blake Walker, Robert Mier cracked a solid single to left field. After an errant pick-off attempt from Ocean View catcher Timothy Robinson, Mier advanced to second and then moved to third on Matt Gelalich’s groundout to first. Evan Highley then crushed a ball about 400 feet for a sacrifice fly to put Bonita up 1-0. After a sharp single by cleanup hitter Brian Tuttle, KC Huth belted a ball about as far he can rip one, but again it was contained by the ballpark’s Bermuda Triangle in center.

No doubt, Bonita wanted more. Still, it had the early 1-0 lead and had clearly set the tone for the game. In the bottom half of the first, McCreery walked Ocean View lead-off hitter Colton Johnson. But after Walker bunted him over to second, McCreery struck out Aaron Delgado and got Kevin Nance to pop up.

In the top of the second, Bonita continued to hit the ball sharply, but came away with nothing. After Matt Rodriguez grounded out to second, catcher Mark Lindsay and Thomas Castro flied to right. “I thought we hit some balls right on the button, and they seemed to be right at people,” Bonita Coach John Knott said. “We hit the ball along the gaps, but we just happened to hit it right to ‘em, and we seemed not to get the big hit with runners in scoring position.”

That pattern would continue, but not before Ocean View tied the score at 1-1 in the bottom of the second. Blake Hitchcock banged McCreery’s first-pitch offering for a solid single to right and then Robinson perfectly executed a hit-and-run to put runners on first and second with no outs. With the back-to-back singles and no outs, Ocean View looked to have a big inning in store.

Facing similar situations in other close ballgames, Bonita often resorted to its highly successful pickoff play at second, and Knott called for it again. In the bang-bang timing play, McCreery whirled and appeared to have Hitchcock hung up, but the ball leaked out to short center, with Hitchcock and Robinson moving up 90 feet. Instead of recording an out and dealing with a runner at first, McCreery now had runners at second and third with no outs.

Despite the ominous outlook, McCreery gave up just the one run when he got Nick Schulenberg to ground out to third. He then fanned Eddie Sepulveda and Travis Sparks to end the inning. “You have to give Ocean View a lot of credit,” said Knott after the game. “They do a lot of things we do. They started their inning off with a hit and run.”

In the top of the third, it was Mier again serving as catalyst. After Greg Victoria lined out to right (by now becoming a major theme of the game), Mier worked a walk, bringing up the fleet-footed Gelalich. Gelalich hit a routine grounder to Schulenberg at first, but when the first baseman wheeled to second to start the front end of a double play, he threw the ball away, allowing Mier and Gelalich to advance to second and third with just one out.

While Knott had several options, including a suicide squeeze, a play South Hills used to defeat Bonita in the quarterfinals a year earlier, he elected to let his slugger hit away. Highley roped a liner to right field. This time, however, Highley did not get the sacrifice fly, as the runners held. Walker then fanned Tuttle to wiggle off the hook. “We had a situation with Highley up, and he’s probably been our best clutch hitter all year, and he lined the ball to right field,” Knott said, analyzing one of the game’s pivotal plays.

In the bottom of the third, lead-off batter Colton Johnson grounded a sharply hit ball inside the third base bag that rattled all the way into the left field corner in foul territory, with Johnson finally pulling up at third with a triple. With the infield in, Walker grounded to second baseman Mier, who, after juggling the ball for a split second, took the sure out at first. Surely, Bonita would score again. It was only the third inning.

But Bonita didn’t score again, and neither did Ocean View. In the top of the fourth, despite two well hit fly balls by Huth and Rodriguez, Bonita went down in order. Ocean View did the same, although not conventionally. Schulenberg hit a one-out single but was promptly picked off by McCreery.

Although Bonita didn’t score again, it didn’t mean the Bearcats weren’t trying to knock down the door or at least pry it open. With one out in the top of the fifth, Greg Victoria laced a double down the left field line off new pitcher Sepulveda, the team’s closer. Mier followed by hitting a shot to right, deep enough to move Victoria to third, but Walker snuck a curve ball by Gelalich for the third out.

Ocean View appeared it might break open the tight contest in the bottom of the fifth, but again McCreery showed his resilience. After walking Sparks and giving up a disputed bunt base hit to Johnson, Highley made a diving catch of a bunt attempt by Walker for the first out. Then McCreery made an equally outstanding play on a roller to the right side, grabbing it while fully extended and flipping it to Highley to nip Delgado at first. He then escaped the inning by getting Nance to ground to Highley who flipped it to McCreery covering at first.

In the top of the sixth, Bonita again had a chance to even the score. Highley hit a lead-off single. Although Tuttle flied to right and Huth grounded into a force place, Rodriguez caught a break when the Ocean View shortstop booted his grounder to put runners on first and second with two out. Sepulveda, however, got Lindsay to ground out to short.

Senior Josh Yepez relieved McCreery and set down the Seahawks in the bottom of the sixth. Sepulveda did the same in the top of the seventh. And with the third strike call on Mier who started the game at the plate and ended it at home plate, the Seahawks swarmed onto the field. From the first pitch to the last was close and a test of wills. Ocean View edged Bonita in hits, five to four. Perhaps, Bonita might have had a few more, but playing in the Storm’s Single-A professional ballpark, the Bearcats had to play by the stadium’s rules and mighty dimensions, and in the end they proved too much along with a stubborn and stingy Seahawks’ team.

“Things, for whatever reason, didn’t go our way today,” Knott said. “We didn’t get the big hit, that’s baseball.” Despite the tough loss, Knott wasn’t quite ready to close the book on the season or the incredible players who took Bonita baseball farther than any baseball journey in a long, long time. “You can’t let one game determine whether your season was poor or not,” he said. “We had so many good memories. I’ll never forget this group. They fought in there all the way up to the last pitch. I could tell every guy wanted it. It was a pleasure for me to coach them; they showed up every day to work.”

In a few days, the outfield fences at Bonita will come down, but work on laying out a blueprint to return to CIF’s biggest stage no doubt has already begun.

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