The biggest crowd of Sage Hill School's baseball season showed up on Wednesday. Many of the fans came to support the visiting team, Long Beach Poly.
Someone joked that the Jackrabbits had more fans at Sage Hill than Sage Hill has students enrolled at the school. When it comes to enrollment numbers, Poly has 4,137 students to Sage Hill's 540.
None of that mattered to the small private school in the wild-card round of the CIF Southern Section Division 3 playoffs. Through four innings, Sage Hill led by three runs and it had its ace, Ashwin Chona, come out for the fifth inning.
But the fifth is when Poly rallied to tie it. EJ Andrews drove in two runs with a double in the gap in left-center field and Mike Mauai's sacrifice fly to deep center brought in another run.
The hit that put the Jackrabbits out in front was the one that softly rolled toward the mound. Pinch-hitter Jordan Guevara executed a suicide squeeze play with the bases loaded in the top of the seventh, and Poly scored two runs on it.
The bunt proved to be the difference in the Jackrabbits' 6-4 comeback win, ensuring them of their first playoff win in 12 years.
The Jackrabbits (15-16), who finished fourth in the Moore League, will travel to Orange County again, this time to play Freeway League champion Fullerton (22-7) in the first round on Friday.
"The squeeze play always keeps things exciting, and we figured that the game needed a little more excitement," said Jackrabbits coach Brent Lavoie, whose team struggled moving runners with the bunt in the first, second and fifth innings. "[We] didn't quite execute on all the other bunts, so we figured we'd save the best bunt for the last one of the day."
In his lone at-bat, Guevara delivered the biggest play of the game.
Facing a 1-1 count with the bases loaded and one out, the junior got the bunt down. With Nolan Brown on his way home from third base, reliever Drake Mossman's only play was to first base. His throw sailed over the head of second baseman Daniel Fishman, who was covering first with first baseman Trevor Klein crashing in.
The error allowed Chris Murphy to score to give Poly a two-run lead, more than enough to become the second team in as many years to hand the Lightning (16-8) a heartbreaking loss in the wild-card round. A year ago, Sage Hill allowed a run in the bottom of the eighth and host Lakewood Mayfair won 4-3 in walk-off fashion.
"We had so many occasions where we could've done a lot more damage [against Poly], but we just couldn't come up with that big hit," said Sage Hill coach Dominic Campeau, whose team walked nine times and left the bases loaded in the second and fourth innings. "Sometimes that's going to happen. [On] days like that, you really hope that your defense is going to stay sharp and that your pitcher is going to limit the offense."
Chona, a left-hander, only allowed one run through four innings, and it came in the first inning. The Jackrabbits' first two batters — Brown and Murphy — got on, and Murphy scored on Mauai's high chopper to third baseman William Ho to give Poly the lead.
Sage Hill, the second-place team from the Academy League, went ahead in the second inning. With two outs, the Lightning scored three runs, the first two on consecutive singles by Dylan McCarthy and Matt King.
The third run scored after Andrews walked Fishman on four pitches with the bases loaded. The walk marked Andrews' fourth in an inning in which the senior threw 40 pitches.
Chona's threw 53 pitches through three innings. The only problem for Chona was that the leadoff hitter reached base in the first, second and third innings. In the third inning, Chona stranded the runner on third to keep Sage Hill up 3-1.
The Lightning gave Chona a little more support in the bottom of the third on Ho's RBI sacrifice fly to right field. Sage Hill never scored again, as Andrews got out of a bases loaded jam in the fourth by striking out the last two batters.
After Poly evened things at 4-4 in the top of the fifth, Jesse Simon relieved Andrews, who struck out eight, walked eight and allowed four runs on four hits. Sage Hill, with a runner on second, appeared like it might score a run off Simon with two outs in the bottom half of the inning. But the Fresno State-bound Andrews, who moved to center field, where he normally plays, made a spectacular sliding catch in shallow right-center field, robbing King of an RBI single.
With Chona's pitch count at 110 after six innings, the junior had to come out. He struck out six while walking three and giving up four runs on six hits.
Brown led off the seventh with an infield single off Mossman. Then Murphy got on after seeing four balls. Andrews' sacrifice fly moved the runners to second and third, and Mossman walked Mauai on five pitches to load the bases. Next up was Guevara.
"Jordan Guevara came off the bench," Lavoie said. "He probably didn't even expect to play today."
Guevara got his chance, and he helped end the Jackrabbits' 11-game losing streak in playoff openers.