June 15, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

PHOTOS: Uni earns coveted CIF playoff berth with hard-fought PCL victory over Woodbridge

University players and coaches celebrate after earning a CIF playoff berth Thursday night. (Photos: Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone).

Trojans advance for first time since 2012 with extra inning win.

After four years of disappointment and a couple close calls, eight University High seniors and their teammates could finally celebrate Thursday night after the Trojans defeated Woodbridge 3-2 in nine innings in the final Pacific Coast League game of the season in front of a big crowd at Ryan Lemmon Stadium.

It’s the first time University has advanced to the CIF playoffs since 2012, according to former coach Chris Conlin. University (14-14, 10-11) finished third in the PCL and advances to the Division 6 playoffs while Woodbridge (14-14, 10-11) moves on as the fourth place team into the Division 2 playoffs.

University needed to win Thursday to advance to the playoffs, in fact the Trojans had to win their last four PCL games to qualify. The Trojans won all three games of the series with Woodbridge this week and have won five in a row overall.

“It means a great deal for University High School,” said the Trojans Coach Wes Shaw. “And for the eight seniors who have endured disappointing experiences, I think it’s a culmination of their hard work and them keeping the young guys together kind of illustrate a team atmosphere. All season, we bent but we didn’t break, and that was just resilience today, our kids refused to give up.”

University moved out to a 1-0 lead when Cooper Berger drove home Luke Weston, who had tripled, with a double in the third inning.

Woodbridge starter Vincent DeMarco kept the Warriors close when he struck out the next two hitters.

Woodbridge tied the game in bottom of the sixth inning on a sacrifice fly by Alex Serafin, which drove in Jake Haruki, who doubled. A Woodbridge runner was caught in a rundown between third and home and tagged out, preventing another run from scoring.

To see the slide show, click on the first photo

The game went into extra innings.

In the top of the ninth inning and with two outs, University’s Blaine Anderson delivered a two-run double down the left field line to drive in Rivin Ruhanage, who led off with single, and Cooper Berger, who was intentionally walked.

Anderson had struggled going 0 for 4 and striking out twice before the ninth before delivering the eventual game-winner off reliever Anthony DeMarco, who relieved his younger brother Vincent on the mound in the seventh.

“Last at bat, the velo came and I was a little late so this at bat, I knew I was shortening up my swing and I knew I needed to put something in play, I couldn’t strike out, I saw my fastball, shortened up on it and I put it in play and it dropped,” said Anderson. “There was overwhelming happiness, I was so excited, I turned to the dugout and started screaming, seeing both of my guys score was the best feeling in the world.”

The Uni players were also happy for their second-year coach Shaw, age 76.

“We are so happy we can do this for him, his love and support as a coach makes us want to go out and fight for him. It was great to do it for him,” Anderson said.

University fans had to hold their breath in the bottom of the inning, though, when Woodbridge threatened to tie the game.

Haruki walked, stole second and and Serafin reached on a single to put runners on first and third with no outs. Vincent DeMarco then delivered an RBI single to close the gap to 3-2. But reliever Brennan Collins, who came on in the eighth in relief of Berger, retired the last three hitters to seal the win and Uni players in the dugout poured out onto the field to celebrate with their teammates.

Berger, the ace of the Uni staff, had nine strikeouts and allowed four hits in seven innings and received three walks at the plate, including the intentional pass in the ninth to play a big role in another win.

“It felt great, the past two years, we’ve been one or two games away from playoffs and it just felt good to finally get the job done,” said Berger, a junior. “It was a great opponent in Woodbridge. We knew going into the week what we had to do to get there and we ended up winning the three games we needed to, to sneak in.

“Credit to Blaine (Anderson), he’s been hitting balls hard all week, so happy for him that something finally fell. It came at the best time possible. We got a week of rest before our first game, and I know we have the pitching to get through and our bats have been hot lately so things are looking good.”

Haruki had two hits for Woodbridge and both Vincent DeMarco and Anthony DeMarco had solid efforts on the mound for Woodbridge, which suffered its seventh straight loss.

“It was a good high school baseball game,” said Woodbridge Coach Ryan Brucker. “We came up short but I’m extremely proud of the way our guys competed against a really good pitcher.”

Woodbridge captured the last two PCL titles.

CIF playoff pairings will be announced Monday morning.

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