May 27, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

Wait is over for Sonora baseball team; Raiders headed to CIF Divison 4 finals

Sonora’s baseball players meet after Friday’s quarterfinal round victory over Irvine (Photo: Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone).

For the Sonora High baseball team, the long wait of 24 years is over. 

The Raiders (24-6) scored twice in the bottom of the seventh inning to stave off elimination and defeat Canyon Springs of Moreno Valley 6-5 in a semifinal game of the CIF Division 4 playoffs Tuesday afternoon at Sonora High.

Pinch hitter Andrew Peralta’s two-out, two-strike RBI single scored Hector Garcia with the winning run and propelled Sonora into its first CIF final since 1995. The Raiders will play the Kennedy on Saturday at UC Riverside for the championship. The Fighting Irish defeated Summit 6-4 on Tuesday.  

“I choked up on the bat and told myself, ‘I have to do this, I cannot punch out’” said Peralta, a senior third baseman and a right handed pitcher. “I didn’t know I was going to pinch hit until the coach turned to me in the bottom of the seventh. It’s the most calm I’ve ever been at bat.”

Raiders coach Richard Lodding was filled with emotion after the win.

“I am ecstatic, I’m so proud of these guys” said Lodding. “We came in last place in league last year and for us to turn it around 180 degrees is unbelievable. It’s all about their attitude. This team never stopped battling.”

Trailing 5-4 in the bottom of the seventh, the Raiders took advantage of three Cougars miscues in the final inning (six errors in the game) to stage the dramatic comeback.

Alan Huerta led off the bottom of the seventh and grounded to short but was ruled safe at first when Canyon’s shortstop’s throw pulled first baseman Seth Spencer off the bag. Bennett Thurman then sacrificed Huerta to second.

Hector Garcia followed and hit a spinning grounder to second that Joshua Wilson fumbled, allowing Garcia to reach first and Huerta to advance to third with one out.

One out later, Austin Haller grounded to second, Wilson fielded the ball but Spencer couldn’t hold onto the low throw at first. Huerta scored on the play to tie the game at 5. Peralta then perfectly placed two-out, two strike soft line drive down the left field line to give the Raiders the dramatic victory.

Peralta was dog-piled by his teammates following the winning run.

“It’s an amazing feeling, this win puts our team’s name out there,” said Peralta.  

The Cougars (20-8) rallied for two runs in the top of the seventh inning to take a 5-4 lead and were on the verge of going to the school’s first CIF final. Joshua Wilson drilled a RBI triple to left to tie the score at 4 and then Andrez Melendrez hammered a two-out RBI single to give Canyon Springs a 5-4 lead. 

But Sonora would not be denied.

“It’s crazy, it’s the best I’ve ever felt in my life,” said Raiders third baseman Luis Chavarin, who reached base four times in the game. “Our whole team knew when we came to bat in the bottom of the seventh that we still had a chance and that we’ve done it before.”

Sonora’s second baseman Joey Flores agreed with his teammate.

“Our thinking was get on base any way you can in the final inning,” said Flores, who had two hits, an RBI and was on base three times. “This was a complete team win. I’ve dreamed about this type of win my whole baseball career.”

The Cougars took a 1-0 lead in the top of the third, but a Canyon Springs error led to the Raiders tying the score at 1-1 in the home half of the third.

Sonora took advantage of two bunt singles, a Cougar’s error and a walk to push across three runs in the fourth inning to build a 4-1 lead. Haller produced a RBI sacrifice fly and Flores and Chavarin each had RBI singles to account for the Raiders three-run inning.

Andrez Melendrez cut the lead to 4-3 when he smacked a two-out, two-run single off reliever Justin Estrada who came on in relief of Adam Berecek with no outs and two on in the fifth. Melendrez also hammered a two-out RBI single in the seventh off of Hector Garcia, who relieved Estrada with one on and no outs in the seventh, giving the Cougars 5-4 lead. 

“We all stayed focused on every pitch today just like we’ve been doing all season,” said Raiders right fielder Brad Pelkofer, who was on base three times and scored a run. “We’ve been quietly confident all year.”     

The Raiders have outscored their four playoff opponents 26-6 this postseason.

-Tom Connolly, For OC Sports Zone