Cypress, faced with a seemingly impossible task, used some amazing defensive play and improbable pitching help to beat Rancho Santiago twice Monday to win the State baseball championship.
The Chargers won the first game, 5-3, in 14 innings then came back to win, 8-5, in front of a crowd that jammed the stands and were two to three deep down both foul lines at Cerritos College. It was Cypress’ second State title in four seasons.
Cypress’ Augie Ojeda, a freshman shortstop, was selected as the tournament’s most valuable player, mostly for his defensive work.
He saved at least a run in each game on almost identical plays on balls hit deep into the hole by Rancho Santiago’s Darren Troilo.
Each time, Ojeda dived to get the ball, got up and his throw beat Troilo by about a step.
“I’ve never seen anybody play shortstop like he did today,” Cypress Coach Scott Pickler said. Pickler picked up his 300th victory in the first game.
Cypress’ Andy Gonzales, who normally plays second base, got the victory in each game. He had pitched 18 2/3 innings all season.
He allowed a run in six innings of relief in the first game then started the second game, going 5 1/3 innings for the victory. He is 4-2.
Gonzales was replaced in the second game by freshman Mario Opipari, who had pitched nine innings before Monday.
Opipari was playing center field and contributed a fine running catch before taking the mound. He entered in the sixth with a runner on third and one out and Cypress leading, 8-5.
Opipari walked the first batter but retired the next two to end the threat. The last out was the ball hit by Troilo that Ojeda went into the hole, dove, and threw him out.
Opipari retired the next seven (nine in a row overall) before allowing a one-out single to Daryle Ward in the ninth. But Troilo hit a bouncer to Gonzales, who returned to second. Gonzales tagged pinch-runner Brian Carlson then threw to first to end the game.
“It must have been in the cards,” Pickler said. “The team had the best chemistry of any I have ever been involved with. We beat a very good team.”
Rancho Santiago, which won the State title last season, finished 40-13. Cypress, the Orange Empire Conference champion, beat third-place Rancho Santiago five of six times this season.
Cypress (43-11) took control early in the second game, scoring seven runs in the first inning. Opipari had a two-run double, Ken Granger, Josh Kliner and Ojeda also had RBI singles in the inning.
Kliner singled, was sacrificed to second, stole third and scored on a throwing error for Cypress’ final run in the third.
“Toward the end I started to get tired,” Gonzales said of his pitching. “When we get into extra innings, I always clutch up, I just hate to lose.”
Cypress won the first game when two runs scored on a wild pitch and an error in the 14th.
The Chargers took a 3-0 lead into the ninth but Rancho Santiago rallied to tie it. Toby Sanchez had a two-run single to make it 3-3 with one out. Gonzales hit Keith Cowley to load the bases with one out and David Mallas coming up.
Mallas tried to squeeze but Gonzales got the ball far enough outside that Mallas missed it. Granger, the catcher, tagged Jason Minici who was caught off third.
The inning ended in chaos when Mallas swung at a pitch in the dirt. Granger, who blocked the pitch, quickly picked it up and threw to first to narrowly get Mallas, forcing extra innings.
Cypress had been given a big lift in the first game by sophomore pitcher Rob Crabtree. He had been bothered by a sore arm earlier this season and pitched one inning in the last seven weeks.
But he looked in top form as he limited the Dons to three hits in the first eight innings. Crabtree also benefited from Ojeda, who turned three possible hits into outs.
But Crabtree gave up a walk and a hit to start the ninth before being replaced by Gonzales.
“I was just happy to be back,” Crabtree said. “The defense really picked me up today.”