Baseball can have a way of being humbling.
The Sage Hill School baseball team has certainly felt opposite ends of the emotional spectrum in its first two San Joaquin League games.
Senior left-handed pitcher Ashwin Chona threw a perfect game on March 12 in a league opener against Rowland Heights Southlands Christian, striking out 19 in a 10-0 victory.
A week later, Lightning coach Dominic Campeau called on Chona again in the team’s second league game, against rival St. Margaret’s. This time it was in relief, to protect a one-run lead in the seventh inning.
The Tartans rallied in a thrilling game Tuesday at San Juan Capistrano Sports Park. Will Riddle’s single to right scored Colin Miehe as St. Margaret’s walked off for a 5-4 victory, its first over Sage Hill since 2014.
St. Margaret’s coach Scott Wallis called it the Tartans’ best game in his three-year tenure. It seemed improbable after Sage Hill opened a 4-0 lead in the first inning. But the Tartans (3-5, 3-2 in league) somehow found a way to end an eight-game league losing streak against the Lightning (5-3, 1-1).
“Sage Hill has owned us, and hat’s off to them,” Wallis said. “Typically, we have had situations like that in the first inning where we just roll over and die, so today it was nice to see us continue to battle. That’s what we’ve been trying to build for three years, having that big-game mentality. We had a couple of playoff games the last two years, and we didn’t handle the moment … This win is big for our program, and big for this team especially, to know that they can win a big game like this and compete at a high level.”
Chona got the leadoff batter in the bottom of the seventh, Alex Smith, to fly out to right. But Trey Pate earned his way on with a full-count walk, his fourth time on base as he finished three for three with a solo home run and the walk.
Chona struck out Roberto Gonzalez, and the Tartans were down to their last out. But Miehe stroked a run-scoring double to right-center to tie the score, before Riddle’s single to right.
Sage Hill appeared to have a play at the plate after Chona (2-2) cut off the relay throw, but his throw home to senior catcher Conner Hatz was wide and St. Margaret’s walked off as winners.
“[Chona] is such a stud,” Wallis said. “I mean, he’s going to be a great college pitcher, and he’s a great kid. He’s fun to compete against, but our guys haven’t been scared of him, the last couple of years we’ve seen him.”
Sage Hill built a 4-0 lead in the first inning. After Daniel Fishman drew a one-out walk, Will Ho and Trevor Klein followed with singles, and Drake Mossman plated two with a double to left. Hatz added a sacrifice fly.
Pate’s solo homer in the bottom of the inning, his second of the season, got the Tartans on the scoreboard. They drew within 4-3 in the fifth, when Shane Olvera-Harle led off with a single and he was tripled home by Smith. That marked the end of the day for Mossman, Sage Hill’s starting pitcher.
Klein came in to relieve, and Pate’s single made it a one-run game. It stayed that way until the seventh.
Pate also got the win for St. Margaret’s, throwing four shutout innings in relief to improve to 3-0.
“It would have been easy for them to just fold and think about the next game,” said Campeau, who lost to St. Margaret’s for the first time since his first year in charge at Sage Hill. “They battled and came back and got our top pitcher, so more power to them. [Putting Chona in to close] is something we’d like to avoid if possible. But we’re a small program just like these guys.
“Sometimes in key situations you’ve got to bring your ace in, and you just do it … If I had to do it again, he’d be back in there. He’s our ace and we’re going to live or die with him.”
Sage Hill returns to league action Thursday with a home game against Capistrano Valley Christian at 3:15 p.m.