The Estancia High baseball team hit not one, but two inside-the-park home runs in Wednesday’s Orange Coast League finale against visiting Saddleback.
Senior Justin Wood provided one in the second inning, scoring three runs. Senior Jake Alai’s round-tripper in the fourth inning scored two.
A feat almost as rare for the Eagles has been winning a league title.
Estancia’s last league title came in 2010. The one before that was in 1991.
The Eagles, who came into the final game tied for first place with Santa Ana, not only won the league title Wednesday after drubbing Saddleback 19-1 in five innings. They won it outright. They found out moments after their game completed that Orange had beaten Santa Ana 4-3, leaving Estancia alone at the top of the six-team league.
Orange, Costa Mesa and Santa Ana finished a game back, tied for second place at 9-6 in league. Due to head-to-head tiebreakers, Orange claimed the second-place designation into the postseason, with Costa Mesa in third place.
Estancia (15-11, 10-5 in league) heads into the CIF Southern Section Division 5 playoffs and will learn its first-round opponent when brackets are released Monday. The Eagles handled business in the final week of the regular season, recording two wins over Saddleback (1-23, 0-15). Estancia also routed Saddleback 24-0 in four innings on Tuesday.
“It means everything,” said Estancia junior catcher Garrett Palme, who hit a “traditional” two-run home run, his second of the season, in the second inning and went two for three for the game. “It’s been a long season, had some ups and downs, but we’ve pulled through. It says a lot about our team and the kind of guys that we have. We put a lot of time and effort into this sport, and we love the game. I think we’re very deserving of where we are, and I’m very proud of everybody on this team.”
Estancia, which outscored Saddleback by a combined 52-1 in the teams’ three league meetings this season, scored six runs in the first inning Wednesday. Nick Peralez singled leading off the inning, before Jake Covey walked. Palme’s single scored Peralez, before Wood’s inside the park home run scored three more.
Troy Huber and Alai would also score before the inning was over.
The Eagles then took advantage of six Roadrunners errors in the second inning and scored eight more runs, taking a 14-0 lead.
Estancia coach Kevin Conlin said the leadership of the senior class has been key in the Eagles’ success.
“This being my second year, I think that first year the seniors weren’t really my seniors,” Conlin said. “This senior group’s kind of more my senior guys, and they’ve really stepped up as leaders. They’ve really carried the ball club. They don’t talk very much, but they really lead by example. They showed up every day, and that’s really want we needed.”
Brandon Peck added a two-run single in the third inning for Estancia. Up 16-0, the Eagles appeared to prepare to line up to shake hands in the fourth inning. But the umpires did not call the game at that point, unlike in Tuesday’s game.
“I just kind of do whatever the umpires do, to be honest with you,” Conlin said. “We agreed to a mercy rule, but we didn’t say four or five innings. I guess they were having fun working the game, so they just kept playing.”
The only suspense left would be whether Saddleback would score a run. The Roadrunners did in the fifth, when Michael Arellano was hit by a pitch and eventually scored when Geo Giovanni grounded out to shortstop.
Dillon Manchester started and pitched two shutout innings for Estancia, while Jeremy Gardner had a scoreless inning in relief before Wood closed out the game.
The Eagles jumped up and down in left field after it ended. They celebrated their league title, the feat that was almost as rare as an inside-the-park home run.
“It’s my senior year,” Alai said. “If I’m going to get the opportunity to get an inside-the-park home run, I’m going to do it. No matter what the score is, I had to do it for myself and for the team. I mean, who doesn’t want to hit an inside-the-park home run?”
Support our sports coverage by becoming a digital subscriber.