Baseball: Laguna continues march in playoffs

It's all about winning innings for the Laguna Beach High baseball team.

Through all 14 innings played so far during the CIF Southern Section Division 4 playoffs, the Breakers have done just that.

Laguna has reached the quarterfinal round of the playoffs by virtue of two shutout victories to start the postseason. The division's seventh-ranked team has disposed of Nordhoff (8-0) and 10th-ranked Alhambra (2-0), to earn a date Friday at second-ranked La Habra Sonora.

Game time is 3:15 p.m.

"It should be a great game," Laguna Coach Mike Bair said of Friday's matchup.

The Breakers' 2-0 home win Tuesday over Alhambra gave Bair his 70th career victory at the school, the most wins for a head coach in Laguna's baseball history.

Freeway League champ Sonora (22-6-1) has reached the quarterfinals by posting playoff wins against Patriot (2-0) and Century (2-1).

Laguna (25-2), champion of the Orange Coast League, will take a 13-game winning streak into its first playoff road game.

The Breakers are in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs for the first time since 2011.

"One thing I know is that [Sonora] will be a really good team," Bair said. "They pitch and play defense well and you need both those facets of the game to get this far.

"I really think the game will come down to timely execution on offense. I think that will be the difference."

The Breakers have had timely execution both offensively and on the mound in their two playoff wins.

Against Almont League champion Alhambra Tuesday, senior Preston GrandPre (3-0) threw a complete-game two-hitter and senior Richie Nunis hit a two-run home run to account for the game's scoring.

Nunis homered in the bottom of the third inning to break a scoreless tie, and GrandPre, who will play at UC Berkeley next year, walked five and struck out seven and shut out the Moors (22-4) who had their win streak end at 15 games and were shut out for only the second time this season.

Junior Callan Cochran singled twice for the Breakers who had eight hits off pitchers James Giambalvo and Marco Briones.

"Preston GrandPre was just a fighter the whole game on the mound," Bair said. "He pitched a great game. Richie [Nunis] was clutch for us with his home run.

"We've been doing that all year, having someone come through for us. This team has been putting it all together."

In Laguna's playoff opener May 22 against Ojai Nordhoff, Grant Wilhelm did a little bit of everything for the Breakers. The senior pitched and hit and drove in runs as the Breakers moved on in the postseason by routing the visiting Rangers, 8-0.

Wilhelm went the distance to get his 12th win of the season. Nordhoff (Tri Valley League No. 3) managed seven hits and put runners in scoring position throughout the game, but the right-hander struck out seven and gave up his only walk in the top of the seventh.

He entered the game with an ERA of 0.93, and ended it with his record staying perfect on the season at 12-0.

Wilhelm holds the Laguna single-season (12) and career (24) records for victories.

"Any time you can throw a complete game and get a shutout in CIF, you've had a pretty good game," Bair said. "Grant was awesome out there. They got some hits off him, but we were able to keep them from scoring."

Wilhelm also figured prominently in Laguna's offense. He went two for four and it was his first hit, a one-out, two-run single with the bases loaded in the bottom of the third, that allowed Laguna to pull out to a 3-0 lead. He lined a 2-2 pitcher over the head of Nordhoff third baseman Luke Boyd into left field. It brought in Cochran, who had reached base on a fielder's choice, from third, and also Nunis who hustled in from second base for the Breakers' third run.

It was part of the six-run inning for Laguna which went into a comfortable lead.

Following Wilhelm's single, Will McInerny hit an opposite field single to right field to load the bases. Designated hitter Garrett Burk then singled to center to score Steven Harrison from third. With bases loaded and two out, Jack Simon ripped a shot into left field that got under the glove of Baylee Rogers and rolled toward the fence. The sophomore ended up with a double that cleared the bases, and the Breakers suddenly had a 7-0 lead.

Simon's big day at the plate continued in the bottom of the fifth when his fly out to right field completed the scoring by bringing in Burk who had singled for the second time in the game.

"It felt good to score some runs," said Bair, whose team entered the postseason averaging 10 runs per game. "We had some clutch hits at the right time. This is a game of momentum and in the fourth, we stomped on the gas."

Laguna took a 1-0 lead in its first at-bat. Lead-off hitter GrandPre reached base on an infield error, stole second and was moved to third on an infield groundout by Cochran. Nunis then sent a shot high off the screen in left field for a double that scored GrandPre from third.

The Rangers (13-9) also committed four errors in the field.

Two impressive postseason wins has Laguna playing again Friday because the Breakers continue to keep their eye on their main goal.

"It was a good win and a great way to start the playoffs," Bair said of the Nordhoff game. "This team believes it can make a good run in CIF. As a team, we talked about winning innings. So far, we are winning innings."

Bair said that Wilhelm will start Friday at Sonora.

The winner of the Laguna-Sonora game moves on to the division semifinals at 3:15 p.m. Tuesday and will face either Valle Vista League champion and third-ranked San Dimas, or Pioneer League runner-up and fourth-ranked Torrance who square off in another quarterfinal game Friday.

The Division 4 championship game is at 7:30 p.m. June 7 at UC Riverside.

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