Velazquez’s blast makes Huntington Beach victors in Division I regional final
Ralph Velazquez had hit the ball hard his first three times at bat in Saturday afternoon’s CIF Southern California Regional Divsion I baseball title game at JSerra and got nothing from it, and the frustration was clear.
Assistant coach Brett Urabe pulled the Huntington Beach junior aside.
“I had good barrels, I was kind of mad, was like, ‘Dude, nothing’s dropping for me.’” Velazquez said. “Coach Brett, he said, ‘You’ll end this game with a big hit.’”
Velazquez made it so, clubbing an opposite-field, two-run homer in the top of the eighth inning to deliver the Division I championship to the sixth-seeded Oilers with a 2-0 triumph over the CIF Southern Section Division 1 titlists and defending regional champions.
Matt Lopez scattered eight hits over seven innings, working out of four jams in the bottom of the first, second, fourth and sixth, and Ben Jacobs conceded just an infield hit in the eighth to get the save as Huntington Beach won its second major title, to go along with a 2015 section crown.
It was the ninth win in 10 games for Huntington Beach (25-9) — and second this season over JSerra (24-11) — and capped a special campaign for a team that missed out on the section title game with a two-run semifinal loss on May 17 to Sherman Oaks Notre Dame.
“We knew we had one more game [in the regional tournament after the defeat], at least, and that was our rallying cry after that game,” Huntington Beach coach Benji Medure said. “And I’ll tell you what, that week and a half off [before the regional opener] was tough on us. But the fact that we were able to hang with it and [beat] a good La Costa Canyon team [in the first round] and a good Villa Park team [in the semifinals], and play the way we did. Man, these guys, they’re going to go down in history for us, and I love them.”
Lopez (8-1) dueled with Lions starter Tyler Gough most of the way, and Gough had an easier time of it. He gave up a single to Aidan Espinoza to start the game and walked Brian Trujillo with one out in the first, then retired nine in a row and 17 of 18 batters before departing after six innings.
JSerra had base runners every inning but the seventh, and Lopez surrendered two hits in the first, second and fourth innings and a one-out triple to JJ Hollis in the sixth.
A double play ended the first-inning threat, and a failed squeeze-bunt attempt — with runners at first and third with none out — cost the Lions in the second, with Hollis, who had doubled, thrown out at third by catcher Jackson Brummett. Brandon Chang reached third on a ground out before Lopez struck out Jackson Summers to get out of the inning.
“It was stupid on my part [to call for the squeeze],” JSerra coach Brett Kay said. “I was trying to get a run there. That was my fault. It was me being out of character. That hurt us.”
The Lions threatened again with fourth-inning singles by Hollis and Matthew Champion before Lopez induced another double-play grounder, and he got Chang on a comebacker to the mound and caught Champion’s popup to leave Hollis at third in the sixth.
Medure said he’d cycled through relievers in Thursday’s 9-2 win over Villa Park to save Lopez for the final.
“I [told my pitching coach] it doesn’t matter if we lose [the semifinal, that] we need to win the whole thing for this to be valid, so let’s save Matthew for the championship game,” Medure said. “We have that much faith in him.”
Lopez had good command all afternoon, throwing a mix of fastballs, curveballs, changeups and sliders — and, Medure noted, the ability to throw the latter two for strikes in any situation.
“It’s typical for him to pitch well in big games, and he’s done it all year,” Medure said. “I couldn’t be prouder of him.”
Huntington Beach put two on in the seventh — Trent Grindlinger led off with his second single of the game, and Nick Dumesnil doubled to the right-field gap with two out — but reliever David Horn struck out Tony Martinez, lunging at an outside pitch for the third strike, to exit the jam.
Champion, a left-hander, came on in the eighth, got a quick strikeout, then surrendered a high-hop infield single to Espinoza. Velazquez followed with his homer over the left-field fence.
“I was doing that Carlton Fisk dance to get it over the fence as much as I possibly could,” Medure said. “We knew if Ralph came up, we were going to have a chance. We were telling him to go the other way all day, and finally he did it.”
Velazquez was looking for a curveball but got a fastball instead.
“I just brought my hands inside of it,” Velazquez said. “I got barrel, and that’s all she wrote. I didn’t know [it was out]. I got barrel on it, but it wasn’t full power, so I thought it had a chance.”
Jacobs hadn’t brought his uniform after having all four wisdom teeth pulled Friday, but he wanted to throw, and his mom gave the OK. He got Owen Fuller, the Lions’ No. 2 hitter, on a fly out to right, struck out Jonathan Mendez, and after Dominic Smaldino’s infield single, got Benjamin Reimers to pop out to second, starting the celebration.
“I don’t even know what to do,” Velazquez said. “I don’t know to cry, I don’t know to laugh, it’s crazy. ... Just a storybook ending.”
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