The Costa Mesa High baseball team played in its first CIF Southern Section championship game since 1962 on Saturday.
The Mustangs looked nervous, at least early on.
Four errors in the first two innings ultimately led to seven unearned runs for Arcadia Rio Hondo Prep, which earned a 9-7 victory in the Division 6 title game at UC Riverside.
Costa Mesa could not hold the lead after scoring four runs in the top of the first. By the end of the second, it was the Kares who had a 7-4 advantage.
“It was a battle, it really was,” first-year Costa Mesa coach Kevin Chavez said. “We’re proud of our kids for that aspect of it. I would have liked to have seen a more clean game. The four errors, you can’t have that in the finals and expect to come out victorious. Really, that’s kind of where we were in the middle of the season, a lot of errors and not good baseball. That’s why we were floating around .500. We went on a hot streak and we cut down errors to zero or one most games, we had a lot of hits and you start winning. That was the key for this [run].”
Costa Mesa (16-12) sure looked hot early against Rio Hondo Prep (18-7) and starting pitcher Evan Foor. Miguel “Benny” Rodriguez led off with a walk and stole second, then Cameron Chapman singled past the second baseman. Both would score on a triple to center by Omar Muñoz.
The Mustangs weren’t done. Kyle Anderson reached on a fielder’s choice and scored on Duke Kirby’s triple. Riley Mitchell followed with a single to center, giving the Mustangs a 4-0 advantage.
Rio Hondo Prep immediately responded in the bottom of the inning against Muñoz. Jake Long was hit by a pitch, and would eventually throw on an errant throw to third on a stolen base. However, there were still two outs when Alex Vazquez singled to left, followed by a walk to Bryant Flores.
Jack Van Cleve’s single to center scored two, after an errant throw home produced another error.
“That’s an Achilles heel all year,” Chavez said. “We’ve got two outs. Instead of looking at it like, ‘Hey, the hard part’s already over,’ that seemed to haunt us all year long, getting that third out, for whatever reason … [But] Rio Hondo did a great job. They went down 4-0 in the first inning and they come right back with three. That speaks a lot of volume to the coaching staff and those kids, what they do.”
The Kares earned four more unearned runs in the bottom of the second. After Costa Mesa plated a run in the top of the fourth when David Gonzalez’s single scored Mitchell, Rio Hondo Prep scored another in the bottom of the frame.
Rio Hondo Prep, making its first CIF title game appearance since 1999, was on its way to the first championship in program history.
“It’s hard to overcome, but our team motto is to take a deep breath and relax,” said Foor, who finished two for four with a double and two RBIs. “It’s one pitch at a time, one play at a time, one game at a time. I think that’s why we got this far; we’re resilient all the way around, one through nine. This is a football school, but that’s what helps us. We’re mentally tough, so overcoming tough situations and hardships like that is nothing.”
Costa Mesa never quite got back even, despite scoring twice in the top of the fifth to narrow the deficit to 8-7. Rio Hondo Prep added an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth, which loomed large after the Mustangs tried to rally in the top of the seventh against Kares closer Van Cleve.
Kirby doubled to left with two outs, and went to third after Mitchell reached on an infield error. Mitchell stole second to put the tying run in scoring position, but Van Cleve got Tyler Corkhill to ground out to second to end the game.
Chapman, who pitched the sixth and seventh and allowed one run, was two for four with a double and two runs scored for the Mustangs. Muñoz was also two for four with the triple and two RBIs. Anderson also had a double for Costa Mesa.
Despite Saturday’s result, the Mustangs won’t soon forget their run through the postseason after finishing third in the Orange Coast League. They were trying for their first CIF title since 1961, the first year of the program.
“I think we did our job,” Chavez said. “We really hurt ourselves, and that’s OK. It’s not for lack of trying. You’re going to go through situations where kids make mistakes, physical mistakes. That happens. Just this time, we weren’t able to overcome them. That’s all.
“[The Mustangs] have always been thought of the ones that would fold, and they didn’t this time. A lot of that is maturity. A lot of that is the eight seniors going out and enjoying it in a good way.”
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