Okimoto helps lift Burbank baseball to playoff win

BURBANK — Chris Okimoto understands the role of being the No. 9 hitter in a fluid lineup.

It's a role he doesn't take lightly while also playing a steady second base for the Burbank High baseball team.

Okimoto showed he can produce in the last spot in the lineup, as he finished with a team-high three hits to help host Burbank to a 7-4 victory against Cajon on Tuesday night in a CIF Southern Section Division II wild-card game.

Burbank (18-8) will meet host Arroyo Grande in a first-round at 3:15 p.m. Friday.

"I see it as being a second leadoff hitter," said Okimoto, who drove in a run, stole a base and scored a run. "I go up there and look to stay aggressive.

"It's good to go into the [next] game with confidence."

Burbank, which shared the Pacific League championship with Crescenta Valley, overcame a 2-0 deficit in the second inning and scored four runs in the third to turn back Cajon (13-14). The Bulldogs finished with 11 hits.

Burbank closer Ricky Perez got the final two outs on two pitches to record the save.

Burbank Coach Bob Hart said Okimoto gave the Bulldogs a shot in the arm offensively.

"He's come on strong toward the end [of the regular season]," Hart said. "He had some struggles early on in the season, but he's bounced back nicely for us.

"He's a contact hitter. He's not extremely fast, but he's a very good base runner."

The Cowboys, which received at-large berth out of the Citrus Belt League, scored twice in the second against Burbank starting pitcher Joe Bogenschutz. Shawn Neal had a run-scoring double down the left-field line to make it 2-0.

Burbank sliced the lead to 2-1 in its half of the second when Okimoto had a single that scored Ian McKinnon.

Cajon made it 3-1 in the third on a run-scoring double by Justin Hendricks.

Hart said the Bulldogs had plenty of time to mount a comeback.

"Our guys have shown a propensity to come back from deficits," Hart said. "We don't hit the panic button and we know we have a quality lineup."

The Bulldogs enjoyed a huge third, which included scoring three runs with two out.

A fielder's choice brought Burbank to within 3-2. Angel Roman and Hector Rodriguez then registered back-to-back singles to give Burbank a 4-3 advantage. Roman stole home to make it 5-3.

Burbank scored twice in the sixth to pad its lead to 7-3. Dylan Mersola gave Burbank a 6-3 lead with a run-scoring double to left and John White made it 7-3 when he scored on an errant pick-off attempt to first base by the Cajon pitcher.

The Cowboys closed out the scoring when Mike Quinonez hit a sacrifice fly to center in the seventh.

Burbank received a pair of hits each from White and McKinnon. The Bulldogs also got one hit apiece from Mersola. Harrison Hernandez, Roman and Rodriguez.

Cajon finished with six hits, getting one each from Quinorez, Zachary Grande, Cody Swanson, Neal and Jordan Pollard.

Hart said Burbank will next focus on Arroyo Grande, which won the PAC-7 League championship.

"We look forward to going up there and playing them," Hart said. "If you want to win a championship, you have to beat everybody.

"We will make the trip there and make the best of it."

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