Newport Harbor baseball caps remarkable season with SoCal Regional Division III title
The refrain from the Newport Harbor High baseball team on Saturday was not braggadocio in nature, but still exuded plenty of confidence.
The four words — “Learn from our mistakes” — symbolized everything first-year coach Josh Lee could have hoped for.
“These seniors did a great job,” Lee said. “You could hear them screaming, screaming, screaming, ‘Learn from our mistakes.’ That’s what we hope of teenagers, you know? Everybody makes mistakes. We made a mistake in the semifinals of the Southern Section, and these kids learned from it today.”
The Sailors had lost to Westlake Village Oaks Christian in the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 3 playoffs, but earned a rematch in the CIF Southern California Regional Division III title game.
Only 10 teams from Southern California played on Saturday. Newport Harbor ended up earning some revenge in its last game of the season.
Senior right-handed pitchers Trent Liolios and A.J. Guitron-Moore shined as the Sailors beat the Lions, 5-1, at Oaks Christian.
“It feels amazing,” said Liolios, who pitched three shutout innings and also finished three for four with a double and triple. “It’s a perfect way to go out. I think everyone is just so happy with it, especially earlier in the year not knowing if we’re even going to make it [to the playoffs]. We got lucky enough to even make CIF, and we took advantage of it and did the best we can.”
Newport Harbor (22-12) had lost a lead to Oaks Christian (22-12) in the teams’ first meeting, a tough ending to the longest CIF Southern Section playoff run in school history. But the SoCal Regionals provided another opportunity.
The No. 5-seeded Sailors never had a home game in regionals but turned into road warriors, earning wins over No. 4 Woodland Hills El Camino Real, No. 1 Chula Vista Eastlake and finally No. 2 Oaks Christian.
“[It was] 12 hours in a bus this week, I counted,” said Lee, who gave ample credit to assistant coaches Tate Caraway and Wyatt Hahn. “We were at a point where we shouldn’t have even been in the playoffs, you know … We were 1-4 in [the Wave League], man. We needed Laguna to lose two of their next four and we needed to win all four. It was unlikely, because Laguna Beach is a hell of a squad, but everything broke our way.”
The Sailors struck for two runs in the top of the first inning Saturday against Oaks Christian starting pitcher JoJo Steventon. Joey Wright led off with a single to right and stole second. An out later, he came home on a triple to center by Liolios. Jackson Gilles then roped a double to right to score Liolios.
Liolios got out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the first, working around singles by Elijah Clayton and Finley Buckner and a walk to Tommy Farmer. He induced a pop-out and a strikeout to get out of the jam.
Newport Harbor added a run in the fifth as Bryce Blaser and Liolios laced back-to-back doubles, then two more runs in the sixth. Austin Lueck reached on a one-out error and came home on a double down the first-base line by Elijah Haseth.
Wright followed with a hit to score Haseth, a freshman who finished the season with five hits in his last six at-bats. It was more than enough support for Guitron-Moore, who came on in relief in the fourth after Liolios reached his weekly inning limit.
Guitron-Moore retired the first nine batters he faced before Oaks Christian’s Patrick Chute hit a home run to left leading off the bottom of the seventh inning. But he rebounded, striking out the next two batters swinging before inducing a soft line drive to shortstop to end the game.
Oaks Christian, the CIF Southern Section Division 3 champion coached by former Major League Baseball player Royce Clayton and featuring two of his sons in the starting lineup, managed just four total hits in Saturday’s game.
“A.J. hadn’t pitched since CIF started, but the one thing we know is that he won a championship in football playing quarterback,” Lee said. “The bet here was that the moment’s not going to get too big for the kid. He did a great job. We bet on him, let it ride and it paid off. It was a good bet.”
Guitron-Moore was able to earn his second CIF ring of his senior year. He said he had been throwing bullpen sessions with his dad, Ariel, so he was ready to go.
The Sailors players braved the 405 Freeway back to Newport Beach on Saturday afternoon, as they had Newport Harbor High’s prom to get ready for.
The senior class could dance the night away knowing it had left a legacy that was record-setting.
“I’m amazed right now,” Guitron-Moore said. “It’s extraordinary that we managed to do this with this squad. I believed in all of these guys. I’ve played with them since we were kids. We just came out and executed. We knew we could beat this team if we played our best, and we played our best.”
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