Jake Covey has been the ace pitcher for the Estancia High baseball team all season, but one thing the junior was never asked to do was go eight straight innings.
In the playoffs, all bets are off. When neither Estancia nor visiting Savanna could score through seven innings of Thursday’s CIF Southern Section Division 5 first-round game, Covey kept the ball for the eighth.
He threw 112 pitches, keeping the Rebels off the scoreboard and giving the Eagles a chance to win it in the bottom of the eighth.
“It’s the longest game I’ve ever gone,” Covey said. “It was more of a fatigue battle at the end of it.”
Estancia took advantage in extra innings.
Junior catcher Garrett Palme had a bases-loaded walk-off hit to deep right field as the Eagles earned the 1-0 victory in the eighth, advancing to the second round for the second straight year.
Estancia (16-11) won the pre-coin flip and will host Oxford Academy, a 7-0 winner over Saddleback Valley Christian, in the second round Tuesday.
Covey improved to 8-1 this season with a 0.26 earned-run average. He allowed four hits and three walks against Savanna, striking out 10.
Coach Kevin Conlin, in his second season, has led the Orange Coast League champion Eagles to just their fourth and fifth playoff victories in 27 years. They found a way in the bottom of the eighth against Savanna (19-7), the third-place team from the Orange League.
Estancia rallied against relief pitcher Isaiah Rodriguez after left-handed starter Miguel Martinez had allowed the hosts just four hits in seven shutout innings.
Dillon Manchester was hit by a pitch to lead off the eighth, and Josh Caldales’ bunt back to the pitcher was handled by Rodriguez. He went to second base, but Manchester beat out the throw.
After Hayden Pearce beat out a bunt single up the third-base line, Estancia suddenly had the bases loaded with no outs. Nick Peralez’s dribbler to the pitcher forced out Manchester at home, but Palme came through. He crushed the first pitch he saw to the bottom of the wall in right field.
“These guys, they just grind it out,” Conlin said. “We weren’t seeing the ball well today. Their pitcher did a really good job, and we found a way at the end … You know, we believed we had to bunt to win. It was nice that we could lay some bunts down at the end of the game in a big spot, and then Palme picked us up with a big hit. We just manufactured a run.”
Troy Huber, Manchester, Covey and Peralez also had hits for Estancia, which had chances in previous innings. Manchester had a bunt single with two outs in the fifth and reached third on a throwing error. Caldales nearly brought him home, but Savanna’s Justin Holguin was credited with making an over-the-shoulder catch in deep right field, despite dropping the ball.
Estancia’s Justin Wood reached on a two-base error leading off the seventh, but he was picked off as the pitcher faked a throw to second. The Savanna middle infielders both dived as if the ball had gotten past them, as did the center fielder. Instead, Martinez was moving toward third base with the ball and was able to tag Wood out.
Covey, meanwhile, calmed down after a 24-pitch first inning in which Savanna stranded runners at second and third. He said he would be ready to pitch Tuesday against Oxford Academy on four days rest, though that decision is up to the Estancia coaching staff.
Palme, Covey’s battery-mate, would expect another dominant effort from the right-hander.
“I’ve been catching Covey since I was 5,” Palme said. “We’ve been playing together for a long time, and I know what he can do. When he’s at his best like he was today, he’s pretty dominant. I expect nothing less out of him.”
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