The Laguna Beach baseball team had something to prove in the second round of the CIF Southern Section playoffs Tuesday.
When the Breakers hosted El Segundo in a Division 4 match at Skipper Carrillo Field, the visiting Eagles — despite being the designated visitors — wore their white uniforms, usually a look reserved for the home team.
"It's the first thing the kids noticed," Laguna Coach Jeff Sears said.
Despite playing with something to prove, the Breakers were down a run through 5 1/2 innings but staged a sixth-inning rally that would pave the way to a 2-1 victory. The win put Laguna in unchartered territory in the program's 73-year history: it is in the quarterfinals of the CIF playoffs for the first time.
At 3:15 p.m. Friday, the Orange Coast League champion and fourth-seed Breakers will be in Westlake Village, taking on fifth-ranked Oaks Christian (24-6). The winner advances to Tuesday's semifinal round against the winner of another Friday quarterfinal-round game between top-seed Palm Desert (Desert Valley No. 1) and No. 8 Sonora (Freeway No. 1).
"The big thing is, the kids have a chip on their shoulder when a team shows up in all-white at our own house," said Sears, whose squad remained perfect at home in 2011 with the win. "They really did have something to prove. It took awhile, but they got the job done."
El Segundo took a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the sixth, but it was there that Laguna (27-2) changed the game's tone.
Austin Paxson started the sixth with a single down the right-field line. Chris Paul followed with a sharp infield grounder that appeared to be a double play, but the Eagles threw the ball away and Paxson hustled around to third. On the next pitch to Eric Peruzzi, Paul stole second. Peruzzi, who bats in the clean-up spot, took a 1-2 pitch down the third-base line for a single that scored both Paxson and Paul to give the Berakers a 2-1 lead.
From there, it was up to Keaton Jones to finish off the Eagles. He did, and completed a stellar, complete-game effort.
The senior threw just 68 pitches and struck out 10. He is 7-0 to go along with six saves on the season.
"Keaton threw the heck out of the ball," Sears said. "He was just tremendous. So was El Segundo's pitcher (Nigel Nootbaar. There's a reason he's going to USC."
El Segundo (Pioneer League No. 2) did threaten in the top of the seventh by putting a couple of runners on base, but Laguna second baseman Robbie McInerny caught a soft line drive to end the game.
Paxson, Paul, Peruzzi, Travis Clawson, Alex Iannotti and Jake Herbert all had hits for Laguna.
"Eric (Peruzzi) had that huge when we needed it," Sears said. "He struck out in his first two at-bats but came up big when the game was on the line. He's a senior and a leader on this team.
"This team is kind of special. Everybody wants to be 'the one' who has the big game. Everyone wants to step up in that role."
Sears said he knows little about Oaks Christian. What he does know is that the Lions threw their top left-hander, Travis Radke, Tuesday when they rallied in the seventh inning to edge host Savanna (Orange League No. 1), 3-2.
"All I know about them is that
Gretzky led the Lions on offense with two hits in Tuesday's win over Savanna.
"What this game will come down to for us, is if we do the little things that will make all the difference," Sears said. "How do we get that bunt down, or that hit-and-run down? Will we make that big, quality pitch when we need to, or that key defensive play that needs to be made? It's the little things that lead to success."