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La Mirada baseball rallies to stun Huntington Beach in regional semifinals

Huntington Beach's Trent Grindlinger (28), shown playing against El Cajon Granite Hills on Tuesday.
Huntington Beach’s Trent Grindlinger (28), shown playing against El Cajon Granite Hills on Tuesday, was two for three with two runs batted in against La Mirada on Thursday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)
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Huntington Beach baseball produced seven hits and six runs on its first eight at-bats, so a semifinal romp in the CIF Southern California Regional tournament looked like a go.

Not so fast.

La Mirada hit three home runs — two first-pitch bombs by Kevin Jeon, including a grand slam that forged a fourth-inning advantage — and six doubles in a dozen hits Thursday, pulling ahead three times at Huntington Beach High en route to a 10-8 decision that ended the third-seeded Oilers’ hopes of a second Division I title in three years.

Juniors Maverek Russell, Jeon and Aiden Aguayo, the first three batters in the Matadores’ lineup, went a combined 7 for 10 with seven runs and eight RBIs. The visitors brought home two runs in the third, four in the fourth, and then three in the sixth on Russell’s two-run, go-ahead blast and another by Jeon on successive pitches.

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La Mirada (25-7) reached Saturday afternoon’s final against top seed Orange Lutheran (27-8) at Hart Park in Orange.

“We made mistakes on the mound, and we left the ball over the plate, and they made us pay for it, and that’s what a good-hitting team will do to you,” Huntington Beach coach Benji Medure said. “Sometimes you make mistakes and people pop up, but good-hitting teams don’t miss, and they didn’t miss. ... We left the ball fat, and they hit it hard.”

Huntington Beach coach Benji Medure, shown in 2020.
Huntington Beach coach Benji Medure, shown in 2020, guided his team to the semifinals of both the CIF Southern Section and CIF State Southern California Regional Division I playoffs this season.
(File photo)

The Oilers (24-10), who lost to champion Corona in the CIF Southern Section’s Division 1 semifinals 16 days earlier, were cruising at the start, even after surrendering a run on back-to-back doubles by Jeon and Aguayo in the top of the first. Line-drive singles by Ethan Porter and C.J. Weinstein bracketing an error on Trevor Goldenetz’s sacrifice bunt loaded the bases with none out, setting up a home-plate parade.

Trent Grindlinger’s RBI single tied the score, Jayton Greer followed with a two-run single, and another run came home on Tony Martinez’s fielder’s choice grounder. Matt Hansen then singled, Travis Curry’s sacrifice bunt moved the runners up, and John Petrie and Porter brought them home on back-to-back singles. Three of the runs were unearned.

“That’s a great start, and that’s usually the kiss of death for us,” said Medure, whose team lost Goldenetz, its catalyst, to a tightening hamstring at the end of the inning and went 3 for 23 against La Mirada relievers Jason Rodriguez and Luke Armijo. “We’ve done that before, we’ve started fast and we’re like, ‘Oh, we’ve got this,’ and, obviously, we didn’t.”

Junior right-handed pitcher Tyler Bellerose, who arrived with a 1.08 ERA, retired six in a row, three on strikeouts, after La Mirada’s first-inning doubles. But eight of the next 11 he faced reached base or better, and the Oilers watched their 6-1 lead turn into a 7-6 deficit. The key play, both sides agreed, was a two-out, slow-rolling infield hit that scored the two third-inning runs, the second on third baseman Tony Martinez’s throwing error.

“That didn’t seem like a big play at the time, but if we put the ball in our pocket, we don’t throw it and they get one run, it doesn’t seem like as big of a mistake,” Medure said. “We didn’t need to throw it. He tried to make something happen. I get it. I get why he did it.”

Huntington Beach's Jayton Greer (50), shown earlier this season, had a pair of runs batted in on Thursday.
Huntington Beach’s Jayton Greer (50), shown earlier this season, had a pair of runs batted in on Thursday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Sebastian DeAvila’s leadoff double, Justin Torres’ single and a one-out walk set the stage for Jeon’s grand slam to left, restoring the lead for the Matadores. Curry pulled Huntington Beach even with a towering, two-out homer to left in the fifth, but La Mirada in the sixth jumped on freshman left-hander Tanner Brown, who had retired the first six batters he’d faced, striking out four.

Pinch-hitter Jacob Celiz, in the No. 9 spot, hit a ground-rule double to left — it was first ruled a home run but had not cleared the net above the fence — before Russell and Jeon’s blasts made it 10-7.

“I think everybody in that dugout [after Russell’s shot] all of a sudden felt like, hey, we’re going to do this,” said La Mirada head coach Jimmy Zurn, whose team reached the Southern Section quarterfinals and received a regional bid when Corona and runner-up Harvard-Westlake declined invitations. “That’s a big win for our program. We’re always right there, we’re always solid, we really like our club every year, and that’s a special program in the other dugout, and I really love Benji to death.”

Grindlinger singled home Porter with two out in the sixth, but the Oilers went down 1-2-3 in the seventh.

“It’s not the way we wanted it to end,” Grindlinger said. “But at least we’re at home, we’re all together with our guys and it was a great year all around. We all fought as hard as we could, but it’s baseball, so you’re going to win some and you’re going to lose some.”

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