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Brethren Christian Falls Short of Section Title

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Brethren Christian Warriors knew it would take a pretty good team to deny them the Division VI baseball championship. And on Friday they ran into a perfect one.

Santa Maria St. Joseph pitcher Jason Kelly made a four-run first inning stand up to win the school’s first Southern Section baseball title, 4-1, in front of 1,012 at Blair Field.

The victory capped a perfect season for St. Joseph (29-0). Brethren Christian finished 22-8.

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“At the beginning of the season, I thought I had a team capable of playing in the final,” St. Joseph Coach Dave Brunell said. “But I had no idea of us ever going undefeated.

“Usually you play some very good teams, like we did tonight, and you lose one here or there. And if you take away the first inning, who knows what might have happened?”

Brethren Christian starter Jonathon Rouwenhorst (14-1) would love to replay the first inning. He walked the first two batters, then gave up a booming, one-out triple to left fielder Steve Santana. The bad start continued for Rouwenhorst. After his wild pitch scored Santana, he walked a batter and watched as third baseman Doug Bernier hit a triple to make it 4-0.

Rouwenhorst, who was selected by Cleveland in the 34th round of this week’s baseball draft, settled down. He gave up just two more hits and got 11 of his game-high 13 strikeouts over the next six innings. But the damage was done.

“I just couldn’t throw a strike early,” said Rouwenhorst, who finished with a county-best 188 strikeouts for the season. “Then I had to lay the ball in there and they hit it. I was hoping four runs would not be enough.”

There was reason to believe that, because both teams had been scoring runs in bushels in the playoffs. In its previous four victories, St. Joseph had averaged 12.8 runs; Brethren Christian averaged 15.8 runs.

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But Kelly (14-0) never let Brethren Christian get in a position to rally. He scattered five hits, walked none and struck out six, and was pitching a shutout until the Warriors got an unearned run in the sixth.

The sixth was the only inning Brethren Christian had two runners on base. With one out, Aaron Ireland and Rouwenhorst singled. When Santana fumbled Rouwenhorst’s soft liner, both players moved up a base. Aaron’s younger brother Sean--whose double in the fourth was the Warriors’ lone extra-base hit--drove the run in with an infield grounder.

“Those first inning runs did relax me a little,” Kelly said. “But I knew Brethren Christian was a good hitting team. I had to keep throwing strikes, and our defense made all the plays it had to make.”

Brethren Christian Coach Dave Posthuma saluted the new champions and his team.

“They proved themselves worthy,” Posthuma said. “Jonathon couldn’t find the strike zone early and they got a couple of big hits.

“Still, I am proud of our team and our season. I told them before the game and during it I wouldn’t trade them for any other team, because they were the ones who got us here.”

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