MALIBU — Up by five runs through three and a half innings of its CIF Southern Section Division VI second-round playoff contest, the Flintridge Prep baseball team’s inclusion into the quarterfinals seemed a mere formality.
Unfortunately for the Rebels, who virtually went silent past the top of fourth, host Malibu High was of a different mindset.
The Frontier League top seed scored at least one run in three of its last four half innings, including on a bleeder in the bottom of the seventh that clinched a come-from-behind 6-5 win for the Sharks on Tuesday afternoon.
With the defeat, Prep League runner-up Flintridge Prep capped its season with a 15-8-1 record and a second consecutive run past the first round of the postseason.
As for Malibu (17-12), the Sharks secured the program’s first-ever visit to the quarterfinals Friday.
“We’ve had problems all season when we get ahead,” Flintridge Prep second-year skipper Guillermo Gonzalez said. “We relax and we don’t play with an edge and Malibu did. We made some critical mistakes; mistakes we don’t normally make that killed us.”
Three errors led to two unearned runs and made the exit of Rebels’ ace Brenden McKiernan before the top of the seventh lead to a no-decision, rather than a potential win.
In his stead, Gonzalez summoned senior Daniel Enzminger, who immediately registered a punch-out.
The strikeout, though, was followed by a walk, bunt single that dropped just outside Enzminger’s reach and a wild pitch that put runners on second and third with one out.
Enzminger intentionally walked Pepperdine-bound Chase Lambert to load the bases and then went 3-1 to Dylan Ross before recording a strikeout looking.
The mini-celebration after the out was stunted on the very next pitch when Sharks sophomore Ezra Allen sent a dunker just out of the reach of diving shortstop Hamilton Evans, which plated Chris Falk with the game-winning run.
“We’ve made a history of comebacks this season and it’s good to rely on that experience,” Sharks Coach Ari Jacobs said. “Flintridge Prep was definitely a tough team, but we just buckled down.”
While the Rebels went down to defeat in the seventh, perhaps the sixth inning proved more of the team’s undoing.
The Rebels committed three errors, including one on a particularly damaging botched double play that, instead of ending the inning with the Rebels up one, allowed the score to be tied at 5 and put runners on second and third with one out.
Even though it appeared McKiernan (allowed three earned runs in six innings on 11 hits with four strikeouts and three walks) was tiring, the senior kept his team alive by striking out Hunter McMillin and then coaxing a flyout to center to end the inning.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Malibu because they took advantage when they had to,” McKiernan said. “But we just gave up way too many costly errors and shut it down after the fourth inning. That’s what’s disappointing.”
Flintridge banged out 10 hits, seven of which happened through the first four innings, as the Rebels opened with a 1-0 lead in the top of sixth thanks a two-out RBI single from Enzminger that plated McKiernan, who reached on a one-out single.
The Rebels’ biggest inning was the third, where the squad added three runs on singles from Isaac Kim, Cole Rademacker (two for four with a run) and a run-scoring single from Evans. A wild pitch from Sharks starter Noah Simon also plated Kim, while a steal of home from Evans accounted for the third run.
Flintridge Prep then added one more run in the fourth to go up, 5-0, after a lead-off single from Scott Tsangeos was cashed in thanks to two errors from the Sharks.
Malibu mounted its first surge of the contest in the fourth when a walk to Declan Sheridan was followed by five straight singles that accounted for three runs and left the bases loaded with no outs.
Once again, McKiernan showed grit in tallying a pop-up to short followed by an inning-ending 6-3 double play to escape.
Flintridge Prep nearly walked away with a win despite allowing 12 hits and five walks on what Gonzalez considered a “squeezed strike zone.”
“Brenden should have got the win out there,” said Enzminger, who was two for four. “It’s tough to lose. But that’s baseball; it’s a game of inches. A strike here, a strike there and it’s a different game.
“I was an inch away from fielding a bunt in the seventh and we were an inch away from making a catch to end the seventh. That’s just the way it goes."
Follow Andrew J. Campa on Twitter: @campadresports.