IRVINE — Brian Hurst started his Friday thinking of Corona del Mar High's must-win Pacific Coast League playoff game. Lose and the Sea Kings miss the CIF Southern Section Division III playoffs.
When the baseball team hopped on the bus after class, the senior learned of a new assignment. Hurst wasn't playing second base.
He was taking the mound.
The last time Hurst pitched was on April 6. Hurst couldn't remember if he pitched in league this season.
He had not, nor had he started a game with the ball in his hand.
Coach John Emme explained the plan to Hurst before he faced Laguna Hills.
"I was going to give him the ball and let him keep it as long as he could," Emme said.
Hurst kept the ball. Don't blame him if he took it with him on the bus ride home. He deserved the game ball after his complete-game effort.
With his two aces starting games this week, Emme needed a 100% effort from someone else. Hurst responded with 100 pitches.
The total was enough for Hurst to lead CdM to a 4-1 victory against the Hawks at Irvine High and clinch the league's third guaranteed playoff berth.
Emme picked a good time to call Hurst's number as he earned his first win of the season. Hurst allowed just two hits, while striking out three.
"He got pressed into service and he was lights out," Emme said of Hurst, who before Thursday had only thrown 3 2/3 innings during three outings in relief. "Last year, Hurst threw a complete game against San Juan [Hills], so we knew he had it in him. He's in terrific shape."
So is Emme, who has only missed the postseason once in his 13 seasons at CdM.
The Sea Kings (11-16) rebounded nicely after falling short at home Thursday of securing second place outright and a playoff berth. Errors that day in the seventh allowed league champion Beckman to overcome a one-run deficit and prevail, 5-4.
CdM found itself tied for second in league with Laguna Hills and University. A coin flip gave University a postseason entry after its coin landed on the other side of the one CdM and Laguna Hills flipped.
In the next 24 hours, Hurst tossed Laguna Hills (12-14) aside.
Hurst challenged hitters and they put the ball in play. The Sea Kings backed up the University of Pennsylvania-bound player defensively.
Offensively, CdM gave the 6-foot-2 Hurst run support, two runs in the third and fourth innings.
CdM's Josh Harrison led off the third inning with a bloop single over the second baseman's head. Andrew McCormack moved Harrison into scoring position on a bunt.
Mitch Gardner's ground ball to first got Harrison closer to home. Brian Ford had enough of the small ball.
With two outs, Ford drove a shot toward right-center field. Ford took off flying around first, at one point thinking Emme, the third-base coach, would hold him up at second.
There was no way. The ball rolled all the way to the fence covered in ivy.
"He's a soccer guy!" Emme said.
Ford still wasn't sure of his chances.
"I thought, 'OK. I guess I'll go for third,' " Ford said. "Once I got to third, he's waving me home, so I'm like, 'I guess I'll go home.' "
Ford crossed the plate standing up. Stopping his stride were teammates, who came out of the dugout to congratulate Ford on his first inside-the-park home run of his career.
"That made it so much easier," Hurst said of pitching with the lead. "I didn't have to worry about anything, just throw strikes."
Finding the strike zone became an issue for Hurst in the final two innings.
He walked the first two batters in the sixth, and then hit the first two batters in the seventh. Emme grew uneasy in the seventh.
After CdM's seventh-inning meltdown the day before, Emme jogged out to the mound and gave Hurst some advice.
"Keep throwing strikes," Hurst said Emme told him. "They'll get themselves out."
After walking a batter on four straight pitches to load the bases, Hurst threw another ball out of the strike zone.
Hurst couldn't afford to mess around with the possible winning run at-bat. He went right after the hitter. Two pitches later, he got him to fly out to right for the final out.
Now the playoffs are next. The release of the pairings is Monday.
Emme expects the Sea Kings to open the playoffs in the wild-card round. Ford still likes CdM's chances of making a deep run like last season's semifinal appearance.
"As long as the pitching holds [up] ... we're going to be dangerous in the playoffs," Ford said. "Now, we got a third guy [that can pitch] that we just [discovered] today."
Pacific Coast League Playoff Corona del Mar 4, Laguna Hills 1 SCORE BY INNINGS
CdM0022000 — 471Laguna
0000001 — 120Hurst and Attyah; Tereschuk, Hall (4) and Leahy. W – Hurst, 1-0. L – Tereschuk. HR – Ford (CdM).
Pacific Coast League playoff Corona del Mar…4 Laguna Hills…1