May 20, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

PHOTOS: Crean Lutheran rallies for extra inning win to reach CIF Division 2 quarterfinals

Crean Lutheran players celebrate a walk-off win Tuesday. (Photos courtesy Crean Lutheran Shutterbugs, John Luciano and Howard Lyon).

Six days after knocking off Paloma Valley, the No. 2 seeded team in CIF Division 2, Crean Lutheran High School’s baseball team pulled off another surprising playoff victory in round two.

This time, the Saints got to celebrate with their home fans.

Crean Lutheran kept battling and overcame a 2-0 deficit to defeat Citrus Valley 3-2 in nine innings Tuesday in front of a big crowd at Crean Lutheran. Crean Lutheran (17-12) advances to the quarterfinals Friday at Moorpark (16-10-1).

Crean Lutheran pushed across the game winner when Walker Richardson drew a walk-off walk on a 3-2 count and one out to drive in Cooper McIllroy who led off the inning with a single, for his second RBI of the game. Griffin Theetge had a perfect sacrifice bunt, Sho Garcia was walked intentionally and Jackson Haney reached on a bunt single to load the bases.

After the walk, Crean Lutheran players in the dugout poured out onto the field and the Saints fans cheered loudly to celebrate the latest win for a Crean Lutheran team that advanced to the CIF playoffs as an at-large team.

To see the slide show, click on the first photo:

“I told them on Monday, if we feel like Thursday was a game that was bigger than it was and we start to change our mindset, I think we’re doing ourselves a disservice and we’re not in the mindset that we need to be,” said Crean Lutheran Coach Jake Haney. “We’re going to be an underdog in every round and I think we’ve played really well all year long when we’re not supposed to win.

“We’ve won a lot of games this year that we’re not supposed to win. Last Thursday was one, today was another. That team is really good, they’re very well coached, they’re a classy group, they do things the right way, we’re not supposed to win, but our guys find a way to do it.”

Crean Lutheran got solid pitching from starter Joe Rhinehart who gave up two runs in 4 1/3 innings. Ben Keller came on in the fifth and Calvin Howard, who relieved in the eighth, shut out the Blackhawks the rest of the way.

Citrus Valley (17-10) had two runners on with two outs in the eighth but Howard was able to get the final out and work out of the jam.

Citus Valley took the early lead with unearned run in the third inning when John McKee singled to make it 1-0. The Blackhawks added another run in the fifth inning. Nathan Castillo drew a walk and came around to score on a fielder’s choice.

But Crean Lutheran battled back with two runs in the bottom of the fifth. McIllroy walked, stole second and scored on a double by Garcia. Jackson Haney then reached on a single and Richardson drove home the tying run on a groundout to give the Saints a chance to win.

“It was definitely a dog fight, it was a great team win,” said Garcia. “We all battled through until the very end and I feel we all really needed to do that or else we could have easily just given up in the seventh and ended our season. But I love how our team fought back and clutched up at the end.

“Ninth inning was a lot of nerves but I knew Walker would clutch up with that walk. Overall, I think that we really decided to put all of our energy into that moment right there and then.”

Garcia said the Saints got a big lift from Thursday’s 9-8 playoff victory on the road against Paloma Valley.

“That was a huge realization that we could really go deep and far and probably win this whole thing if we really tried to and as long as we all stay healthy and keep our energy up and keep it rolling, we have a really good shot at doing it,” Garcia said.

Garcia and Jackson Haney each had two hits for Crean Lutheran, which outhit Citrus Valley 7-5.

—Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone; timburt@ocsportszone.com