Laguna Beach hangs on to win CIF opener

MISSION VIEJO — It’s somewhat unusual for two outright league champions to meet in the first round of the CIF Southern Section baseball playoffs, but it happened Friday in Division 2.

Orange Coast League champion Laguna Beach traveled to play at Sea View League champion Trabuco Hills. For the Breakers, last year's Division 4 champs, it was a difficult beginning on what they hope is the path to back-to-back CIF championships.


"We just look at what's on the schedule, and that's the game we play," Laguna Beach Coach Jeff Sears said. "We have no control over where they put us, we have no control over who we play. We have control over what we do."

What Sears saw Breakers junior Blake Burzell do was to overcome adversity on the mound in the bottom of the sixth and seventh innings.

Burzell, a Duke commit, shut the door on the hosts and Laguna Beach earned an 8-7 victory to advance.

Laguna Beach (21-8) won its 12th straight game. The Breakers will play at home against No. 4 seeded Newbury Park, a 3-0 winner over Santa Barbara, in a Division 2 second-round game on Tuesday.

The Breakers never trailed Friday, but Trabuco Hills (17-10) nearly came all the way back from a 5-0 third-inning deficit.

"That's a very good team, a very well-coached team," Sears said. "[Coach] Mike [Burns] does a phenomenal job. They ran the bases extremely hard, put pressure on us all day long. You know, our guys love to compete. They compete every day in practice, and they do it our way. It's an 'us' thing. We're together as a group, and we stay that way."

Sears pulled Laguna starting pitcher Jack Loechner in the bottom of the sixth, after Loechner walked the leadoff batter with the Breakers up, 8-4. Loechner ended up earning the win, improving to 8-2 after giving up three earned runs and seven hits in five innings. He walked two and struck out one.

Burzell came in and, one out later, Trabuco leadoff hitter Nick Heili smacked a two-run homer to left-center. The Breakers' lead was cut in half, to 8-6.

Burzell rebounded with a strikeout and induced a fly ball to right that should have gotten the Breakers out of the inning. But Trabuco's Ryan Kearney ended up on second base after the Laguna right fielder appeared to lose the ball in the sun. The Mustangs cashed in on the mistake when cleanup hitter Matt Wong hit a first-pitch RBI double to center, his second double of the game.

Trabuco Hills had the tying run on second, but Burzell struck out Daniel Johnson to get out of the jam.

After Laguna went one-two-three in the top of the seventh, Burzell again faced adversity in the bottom of the frame after Andrew Hacker led off with a full-count walk, checking his swing on the final pitch. But four pitches later, Hacker was thrown out trying to steal second by Breakers freshman catcher Aiden Booth.

"That just shows you what kind of teamwork we have," Sears said of the play by Booth, who missed much of the season with a broken finger. "The young guys want to compete like the old guys."

On the next pitch, Burzell struck out Mikey Reyes. The momentum had suddenly changed, and the Mustangs were down to their last out. The Breakers got it on a groundout to shortstop Dustin Angus.

Angus was three for four with a triple and two RBIs, while Dante Faicchio also had three hits for Laguna Beach with three runs scored. Kolton Freeman, Cutter Clawson and Dylan Smith all had a pair of hits, with Clawson and Smith each belting doubles.

The Breakers used five singles to take a 2-0 lead in the top of the first, and added three runs in the third inning on three more hits.

"We don't hit a lot of home runs," Sears said. "Home runs are accidents for us. We try to hit the ball hard. If we put the ball in play hard, good things happen."

The Breakers believe in that system, and they want good things to keep happening next week as well.

"I thought [Friday's win] was great," Loechner said. "We all worked as a team. We had a couple of rough innings there, but we always got picked up with the bats. I'd say that just working as one with team chemistry is our big thing, and we always come back from a bad inning or anything.

"We want to win it all, win it again. That was our mentality going in [to CIF]. We think we're the best team out here, and we think we can win it all … Our coach always tells us we're the better team, so that's our mentality going out every game. It doesn't matter the opponent. We're playing baseball, that's all we're doing."


CIF Southern Section Division 2 playoffs

First round

Laguna Beach 8, Trabuco Hills 7

Laguna Beach 203 102 0 – 8 14 2

Trabuco Hills 002 023 0 – 7 9 0

Loechner, Burzell (6) and Booth; Mahr, McCarrell (4), Brodsky (7) and Kearney. W – Loechner, 8-2. L – Mahr, 4-3. 2B – Clawson (LB), Smith (LB), Thibert (TH), Wong (TH) 2, Heili (TH). 3B – Angus (LB). HR – Heili (TH).

Twitter: @mjszabo