June 15, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

PHOTOS: Orange Lutheran holds on for win over La Mirada and captures first CIF regional title

Orange Lutheran pitcher Ross Clark reacts to the game-ending strikeout Saturday vs. La Mirada. (Photo courtesy Jim McCormack, For OC Sports Zone).

Orange Lutheran High School’s baseball team survived a furious La Mirada seventh inning rally and held on to defeat the Matadores 7-6 to capture the program’s first ever CIF Division I Southern California Regional championship Saturday evening at Hart Park.

Leading 7-3 going into the seventh inning with their ace, Ross Clark, on the mound, the Lancers (28-7) appeared to be in good shape to close out the game. However, La Mirada scored three times and had the tying run on base when Clark struck out Travis Friend to secure the win.

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

Noah Rodriguez and Jacob Celiz led off the seventh inning for La Mirada with back-to-back singles. One out later, Maverick Russell grounded out to first base for the second out of the inning while the runners moved up to second and third on the play. Rodriguez scored on a wild pitch to cut the lead to 7-4.

Down to his last strike, Kevin Jeon drilled an RBI single, trimming the lead to 7-5. Aiden Aguayo, who also was down to his last strike, blasted a towering drive to deep left that looked as if it would leave the ball park and tie the game, but the ball hit off the fence scoring Jeon and cutting the lead to 7-6.

Aguago ended up with a double. Clark then ran a deep count to Friend before striking him out to end the game as his teammates joined in a dogpile near the mound in celebration.

“I told you before the game that Jimmy (Zurn, the La Mirada coach) has these guys ready and they are competitors,” said Orange Lutheran Coach Eric Borba. “They have fight in them and we were very aware of it. (Pitcher) Ross Clark is our guy. I wasn’t planning on taking him out. We got punched in the mouth, but we came back and after 16 years, all of the hard work has paid off and we get to hang a banner. This is really special.”

Clark said he wasn’t nervous in the seventh inning as La Mirada rallied.

“I was tired, but I wasn’t nervous; this is a big moment and I wanted to be out there,” said Clark, a Grand Canyon commit, who posted a 8-0 pitching record along with an .082 ERA this season. “Our team is resilient and we came back. We can handle the pressure; Now, give me my ring.”

The game didn’t start out in the Lancers’ favor.

The Matadores (25-8 and the Gateway League champions this season) scored two runs in the first inning against Lancers starting pitcher Alex Chavez. Jeon ripped a one-out triple and scored on an Orange Lutheran infield miscue. Friend gave La Mirada a 2-0 lead when he hit an infield ground out that scored Aguayo.

“I knew we would come back after getting down,” said Chavez, who earned his first win of the season. “I was angry that I gave up two runs, but it made me more locked in.”

Chavez pitched four innings before giving way to Clark. He gave up three hits, struck out two and did not walk a batter. Chavez was also aided by an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play to close out the fourth inning.   

In their half of the first inning, the Lancers countered immediately. Five of the first six Orange Lutheran batters reached base. Utah Tech commit Finnegan Stewart came to the plate with one out and the bases loaded with his team trailing 2-1.

He promptly belted a three-run double to the gap in left center field, clearing the bases and giving the Lancers a 4-1 lead. Stewart scored on Hamilton Friedberg’s RBI sacrifice fly to extend the lead to 5-1. Stewart had two hits in the game and reached base three times.

In the second inning, Orange Lutheran added to its lead.

Evan Wiley led off by drawing a walk and Wyatt Hanoian followed by getting hit-by-a-pitch. Both runners came around and scored on back-to-back RBI sacrifice flies by Josiah Hartshorn and Brady Murrieta, giving the Lancers a comfortable 7-2 lead.

The Matadores pushed across an unearned run in the sixth inning to cut the lead to 7-3, setting the stage for a dramatic finish.

The Lancers were jubilant following the game.

“This is what we worked for all year,” said Texas commit Brady Murietta. “After we lost in CIF, we could have closed it down, but we wanted to come back. It took all 26 guys to contribute and win this championship. We’ve created such a winning environment here. It’s an awesome feeling.”

“Every time in the future when I come back to visit the school I’ll be able to look up and see that banner,” Chavez added.

Despite the setback, Zurn, the La Mirada coach, said he was proud of his team.

“This is the most proud I’ve ever been of a team,” said Zurn, whose team trailed Huntington Beach 6-1 on Thursday before rallying to win and reach the final. “We took the No. 1 team in the state to the brink. What a year it’s been. We’re still playing on June 1. This team has mental toughness and I attribute that to my coaching staff. I can’t say enough about them and the great job they did with our players. We feel we can play with anybody in the country.” 

Jeon said the La Mirada season was a special one.

“This season has been a cherished memory,” said Jeon, a junior and a Boston College commit, who had two hits, scored two runs and had an RBI. “Our team has developed a strong brotherhood and I am so proud of our guys. We came so close to a state championship.”

La Mirada was attempting to win its school’s first So Cal regional championship. Matadore juniors, Russell, Aguago and Friend have all committed to play at UCLA.

—Tom Connolly, For OC Sports Zone