In some ways, Fountain Valley High spoiled Deric Yanagisawa during his first three years as the head coach. The baseball team made the playoffs each season, earning the Sunset League's top entry twice and the No. 2 berth once.
Those playoff days ended with the Barons finishing in last place two years ago and tied for fourth last year. Those two years of missing the postseason taught Yanagisawa something. In order to lead Fountain Valley back to the playoffs, he said he had to reduce the numbers in the program.
"I think it's really paying off," Yanagisawa said. "Now we're able to get our guys a lot more reps, a lot more mound time, a lot more live cuts, a lot more live [at-bats].
"We belong here [in the playoffs]."
The Barons made their first postseason appearance in three years on Thursday. And right away at Canyon, the Barons showed they more than belong on this stage.
Fountain Valley took a three-run lead in the first inning en route to a 7-1 victory in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 2 playoffs.
Two three-run innings, the other coming in the third, and a solid six-inning performance out of Nathan Wilson made it possible for Fountain Valley (19-11) to advance to the second round on Tuesday. The Barons, the third-place team from the Sunset League, will host Crescenta Valley (24-4). The Falcons defeated Lakewood 5-2 in the first round on Thursday.
"We know nothing about Crescenta Valley," Yanagisawa said of the program that beat Arcadia, ranked No. 4 at the time in the state by CalHiSports.com, twice last week to claim an undefeated Pacific League title.
Wilson, who struck out five, walked three, hit one and allowed one run on four hits, might start against Crescenta Valley. With the Barons playing on Thursday, Yanagisawa said the senior right-hander would have enough rest to throw five days later.
"I'll do whatever it takes to get us to the championship," said Wilson, who threw 99 pitches, 65 for strikes.
Wilson quieted North Hills League champion Canyon (18-11-1), giving up the lone run in the bottom of the second. By then, Fountain Valley had given Wilson the lead.
The Barons wasted little time against San Diego State-bound pitcher Troy Melton. They went ahead 3-0 in the top of the first inning. Conrad Villafuerte led off with a high chopper to shortstop Evan Rafferty, who tried to field it on the short hop and missed.
Sebastian Murillo made sure no one stood a chance at getting to his ball. Murillo ripped a 2-0 fastball for a double in the gap in left-center field to drive in Villafuerte from first base.
The next batter, Cole Wentz, reached on a throwing error by Rafferty. Then Wentz stole second to put two runners in scoring position for Noah Amenta, who brought Murillo in on a sacrifice fly to right field. Wentz also tagged up on the sacrifice fly, and he made it home on Jake Brooks' single to right.
"We've been doing a good job of scoring first," said Yanagisawa, whose team has produced the first run in 11 of its last 12 games. "Conrad's really been our catalyst here over the last month and a half. [Conrad] and Sebastian have really picked it up offensively. When those two guys get going at the very top of our lineup, you have a big advantage when you score first in the playoffs."
Villafuerte went three for four with a walk, and Wentz, Brooks and Shea Adame had two hits apiece.
Brooks' leadoff infield single started a three-run rally in the third. Back-to-back throwing errors in the inning contributed as well, as the Barons scored twice off the miscues. Murillo's sacrifice fly to deep center brought in a third run to put Fountain Valley up 6-1.
"The kids were nervous," Canyon coach Mike Najera said was the reason behind the three errors, which did not help Melton during his two-inning outing in which gave up five runs, three earned, and seven hits. "When that team plays good and you play bad, it's not a good combination."