One would be hard-pressed to find a high school baseball game that played out more unconventionally or chaotically than Friday afternoon's CIF Southern Section Division II quarterfinal game between host Crescenta Valley High and No. 3 seed Yucaipa.
The Falcons held a precarious one-run lead heading into the seventh and were just three outs from the semifinals despite having been held to two hits and none for four innings running.
Falcons center fielder Brian Erickson threw two runners out at the plate in the game – two.
Both teams were furious with the home plate umpire – Crescenta Valley for a seemingly shrinking strike zone and Yucaipa for a 7-5 double play in which a runner was called out for leaving early on a sacrifice fly along with Erickson's disputed second assist at the plate.
Stranded runners and missed opportunities were in abundance, unbelievable defense was matched by head-scratching gaffes. And, of course, there was a last-inning rally to win it.
However, following seven innings of dramatic madness, it ended as most ballgames do this time of year with one team fighting tears upon a season's conclusion and another celebrating another day ahead.
Unfortunately for the Falcons, it was their season that came to a crashing halt on the strength of a three-run seventh inning surge for the Thunderbirds that propelled them to a 5-3 quarterfinal win at Stengel Field and into Tuesday's semifinals against Chino Hills Ayala.
"When you get into the playoffs, any game could be your last game, so you have to leave it all out on the field and we did," said Erickson, who threw out a runner at home in the top of the fourth to keep the Falcons ahead 2-1 and did it again in the fateful seventh only to see the Thunderbirds score three runs thereafter. "Will Grimm pitched his heart out. Luke Hempel did, too."
When asked if this was the craziest game he had ever been a part of, Yucaipa coach Ralph Grajeda shook his head in disbelief.
"This is my 22nd year. Yes, yes it was," he said. "We had just about everything."
Crescenta Valley (25-5), the three-time reigning Pacific League champion, had its 18-game winning streak snapped with the conclusion of its campaign, having been eliminated by Yucaipa for the third time this century (2009 and 2013 previously) as its first trip to the quarterfinals since 2015 fell three outs shy of matching that squad's semifinal ascent.
Grimm, making his first start since a shutout over Arcadia in the final game of the regular season to clinch the outright league title, threw five innings, allowing two runs (one earned) on eight hits with two walks and two strikeouts. Hempel came on in the sixth with the bases loaded and no outs after Yucaipa (26-5), which shared the Citrus Belt League title, had tied it at 2. He got out of the jam, but took the loss in the seventh.
Yucaipa countered with Tyson Heaton, who threw a complete game and allowed three runs on just three hits – a double by Grimm and two singles from Cody Cancelosi – with four walks (two intentional) and two strikeouts. After allowing hits in each of the first two frames, Heaton didn't give up another hit until Cancelosi's surprise bunt single with one away in the seventh.
"We knew coming in he was a stud," Erickson said.
Clinging to a 3-2 lead in the top of the seventh, Crescenta Valley's fortunes turned quickly as leadoff man Joseph Lomeli led off with a single. After a groundout and an intentional walk, Erickson fielded a single from Heaton and the All-Area linebacker came up throwing and got Lomeli for his second outfield assist of the day. Grajeda was livid as he argued with the umpire.
"Holy cow, [the catcher] did not touch him," Grajeda said. "Not taking anything away from the center fielder, he's a special player. … But he did not touch him."
Up until that point though, even as the Falcons led, they never seemed to hold momentum and that's what the Thunderbirds eventually grasped. The bases were soon loaded and Trenton Luther delivered the biggest hit of the game in the form of a two-run double to right field that would stand as the game-winner. An RBI single by Jacob Barriga followed and it was 5-3 Thunderbirds just like that.
Only an inning earlier, Crescenta Valley had taken a 3-2 lead when Grimm, who scored two runs, led off with a walk, took second on a balk and third on a sacrifice. Yucaipa intentionally walked Trevor Beer and Erickson to load the bases and then Grimm scored on a wild pitch with two outs, but that was all.
"We had a chance to put two or three up and everybody's deflated over there [in the Yucaipa dugout], but we didn't," Torres said. "We were lucky to score on that wild pitch.
"We had that chance. That's the one you'll look back on."
Crescenta Valley, which last loss to Upland, 1-0, on March 20, looked phenomenal at the outset as Grimm recorded a perfect first inning on just six pitches and then led off the bottom of the stanza with a double. Like clockwork, Vincent Parrott sacrificed Grimm to third and Beer delivered a sacrifice fly to left field for a 1-0 lead.
Then the craziness got going in the top of the second. Jordan Andrade led off with a double that looked to be a routine liner to left field, but the left fielder fell down and the ball went over his head. On the next pitch, an error by the shortstop allowed Andrade to tie it at 1.
Brian Ghattas, who did an excellent job at catcher for CV, led off the second with a walk, took second on a sacrifice and scored on a clutch two-out Cancelosi single to left field for a 2-1 advantage.
Though he allowed an unearned run in the second, Grimm's troubles really started in the third as he began to have trouble finding the zone. As the game wore on, the CV faithful's discontent with the plate umpire's zone grew. Still, Grimm survived an infield single and walk with one out in the third.
Crescenta Valley began a streak of four straight innings without a hit in the bottom of the third in which Parrott reached on an error, but was erased by a 6-4-3 inning-ending double play.
A leadoff single in the fifth for Yucaipa, which stranded nine runners and out-hit CV by a 12-3 margin, wasn't cashed in as Erickson recorded the final out on an adventurous popup in which he zigged and zagged before coming up the catch.
In the sixth, a bloop double to right field started the hit parade for the Thunderbirds and a single to center field followed, with Erickson coming up locked and loaded and the runner stopping at third. An RBI single by Luther tied it and a bunt single in which the second baseman didn't cover first base followed and spelled the end for Grimm.
"We made some good defensive plays and then one of our best fielders all year falls down. It's baseball," Torres said. "And I thought Will did great on the mound.
"I think our pitcher gave us a chance to win and that's all you can ask for."
Hempel came on with the bases loaded and no outs and induced a popup to second and then a seemingly unfathomable double play in which a flyout to left field looked to be a standard sacrifice fly, but turned into a 7-4 double play as the umpire ruled the Thunderbirds runner left early and the Falcons left with a 2-2 tie.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Falcons took a 3-2 lead with three walks and a wild pitch, but the inning as a whole was really the one that got away from Crescenta Valley as Yucaipa rallied to move on.
"There was a lot of weird stuff today," Grajeda said. "My team's very competitive. It's hard to put them away. They do a really good job staying in the moment."
For the Falcons, they were tasked with the always difficult notion of taking in the moment of a season-ending loss while still trying to grasp a successful season.
"The kids put in the work and that says a lot about those 12th-graders Brian and Trevor getting those guys together," Torres said. "It's a great group to work with. They did a great job."
That great job saw an 18-game winning streak, a Pacific League title highlighted by two dramatic wins over Arcadia, which was nationally ranked and undefeated at the time, before collecting playoff wins over Lakewood and Fountain Valley to stop a three-game playoff losing skid for the program.
"It's huge," said Erickson of the season and its success. "We haven't been this far since 2015, it's huge. We swept Arcadia. We just found away. We just wanted it more.
"This one just got away."