Jake Alai (29) looks on after Estancia High lost 2-0 to Pasadena Poly in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 5 playoffs at home on Friday.(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)
Estancia High catcher Garrett Palme makes a catch to close out the top of the third inning against Pasadena Poly in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 5 playoffs at home on Friday.(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)
Estancia High starter Dillon Manchester pitches against Pasadena Poly during the first inning in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 5 playoffs at home on Friday.(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)
Estancia High’s Jake Alai can’t secure the throw at second base against Pasadena Poly’s Franco Alonso during the fifth inning in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 5 playoffs at home on Friday.(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)
Estancia High’s Justin Wood secures an out at first base against Pasadena Poly’s Trent Steele during the third inning in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 5 playoffs at home on Friday.(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)
Estancia High’s Josh Caldales catches a fly ball against Pasadena Poly during the sixth inning in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 5 playoffs at home on Friday.(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)
The Estancia High baseball team had been living on the edge the past week or so at home in the CIF Southern Section Division 5 playoffs.
Things finally caught up to the Eagles on Friday in a 2-0 setback against top-seeded Pasadena Poly in the quarterfinals. Estancia got this far after two gut-wrenching extra-inning victories.
In the first round, Estancia knocked off Savanna 1-0 in eight innings behind Jake Covey’s four-hitter with 10 strikeouts and Garrett Palme’s walk-off hit. The Eagles then outlasted Oxford Academy 1-0 in 15 innings in Tuesday’s second round thanks to a bases-loaded walk from Covey to score Hayden Pearce.
Estancia’s first quarterfinal appearance since 1989 didn’t go the way it wanted. The Eagles (17-12) were held hitless and struck out 11 times in the first six innings against Poly ace Franco Alonso.
Two second-inning runs from Poly (18-3) were all it needed to return to the semifinals for the second consecutive year. Poly won the Division 6 championship last year.
Orange Coast League champion Estancia did not go down without a fight.
The Eagles had two runners on with no outs in the seventh. Troy Huber was hit by a pitch and Jake Alai reached on a bunt single. However, David Mathias was able strike out Covey. Estancia’s Jack Moyer lined out to shortstop and Alonso stepped on second base for a game-ending double play.
And just like that there wouldn’t be another walk-off win in the postseason for Estancia, which saw its best season in 30 years come to an end. The Eagles fell short of advancing to the semifinals for the first time in program history.
“I looked at my coaches and said, ‘Here we go again. It can never be easy,’ ” Poly second-year coach Nick Wagner said. “We had to take Franco out in that situation because he was nearing 110 pitches. I knew they knew it, too. I didn’t want him to start the inning and have them take pitches just so we had to make the change.
“I figured it was better to let David start the inning fresh. A clean slate, so to speak. David hadn’t pitched in a long time. A couple weeks, in fact. He’s been doing other things for us. He’s similar to Franco for us. A younger version who has ice in his veins. He finds a way to get it done.”
Poly broke through for all the runs it needed in the second inning. Alonso’s triple drove in Robby Wilson, who walked. Mathias’ single plated Alonso.
Estancia’s Dillon Manchester gave up two runs on four hits in five innings. Jeremy Gardner and Brandon Peck each pitched an inning.
“We ran into a good ballclub today,” said Estancia coach Kevin Conlin, who has led the Eagles to three playoffs victories during his two years in charge. “They had a great athlete on the mound. We got runners on base late, but it just didn’t work out for us. We competed till the end.”
Alonso was spectacular on the mound. If not for the pitch count, he was staring at a no-hitter.
“Franco is crucial for us,” Wagner said. “He’s a senior and a four-year guy. When the pressure mounts, he gets better. He can really dial it in and get it done.”
Estancia’s streak of scoreless innings by its playoff opponents came to an end at 24. The Eagles had only given up one run in their last four games before Friday.
Prep League champion Poly heads into Tuesday’s semifinal at Moreno Valley Rancho Verde (22-6) having outscored its opponents 14-1 in the playoffs.
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JACK POLLON is a contributor to Times Community News.