CAMARILLO — Jack Grace asked for the baseball for the second time in three days in the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs. Newport Harbor High first-year coach Patrick Murphy gave it to him to start Thursday.
Who else was Murphy's best available option? The Sailors lost their scheduled starter a day before they traveled to Adolfo Camarillo for a first-round game.
Murphy said the pitcher was one of four players removed from the program after being involved in an incident at school. Two of those players were starters, the Sailors' ace and runs batted in leader.
Newport Harbor was down before it arrived, but not out.
Pressed into service, Grace kept the Sailors in the game. The senior left after the third inning with a two-run lead.
Newport Harbor failed to score again. The Scorpions rallied for six runs in the sixth inning to win, 10-6, and avoid being upset.
The Sailors looked visibly disturbed after the two teams exchanged high-fives near home plate. Newport Harbor's first postseason appearance in 20 years ended on a sour note.
A player from Camarillo (23-4) yelled and mocked a Newport Harbor fan. Dillan Freiberg and his teammates took exception.
Freiberg had to be held back.
"I'd like to have that game back," said Freiberg, a senior, who played his final high school baseball game.
Through five innings, Newport Harbor (17-11) played like the better team. The Sailors out-hit the hosts, ranked sixth in the final regular-season coaches' poll, 11-4.
Newport Harbor led, 6-4, and was on its way to pulling off a second straight victory in the playoffs after Tuesday's 3-2 wild-card win at home against Roosevelt of Corona. The odds were stacked against the Sailors.
The Sailors played without pitcher Chase Kapana (7-2) and first baseman Matt Carpenter (eight home runs, 29 RBIs), but they didn't use that as an excuse. They made the 94-mile trip to Ventura County in the afternoon to win.
"I thought it brought us closer as a team," Freiberg said.
"Life goes on. You've got to go with the blows and that's what we did."
The Scorpions struck first after Newport Harbor squandered a bases-loaded opportunity in the top of the first inning.
After Grace nailed the leadoff batter, Mike Erb retaliated by hitting Grace harder. Behind on the count, 0-2, Erb blasted a two-run home run to left-center field.
The ball tends to fly out of the yard in that direction fast.
The Sailors answered in the second with their own shot. Freiberg drove in two runs by pulling a double down the first-base line to tie the game at 2-2.
Three pitches later, Steve Guerin brought Freiberg home. Guerin tagged starter Justin Chamberlain with a two-run homer to left, giving Newport Harbor a 4-2 lead.
Alex Maddox and Freiberg chased Chamberlain in the third. Maddox's infield single drove in a run and Freiberg doubled for the second time to score another run.
The Sailors went ahead by three runs, their biggest lead of the game. Newport Harbor missed out on a couple of opportunities to increase the advantage and give reliever Ryan Albert a larger margin for error.
In the fourth, a runner was thrown out trying to score from second base. It marked the second time the Sailors ended an inning having a runner thrown out at the plate.
The missed opportunities allowed Camarillo to stay within striking distance. Erb played a big role for the Pacific View League champion.
Erb allowed no runs after he took the mound in the third. Albert matched Erb's effort, pitching well in the first two innings in relief.
In the fourth and fifth innings, Albert shut down the Scorpions, striking out two and retiring the side in order in the fifth.
Entering the sixth, Murphy felt good about the Sailors' chances with Albert trying to close out the game.
"We had the guy we wanted on the mound," said Murphy, who was happy to get to Albert after getting three solid innings out of Grace after he threw 5 1/3 innings on Tuesday.
There was one problem. Albert (5-3) had pitched more than three innings only once in his previous five outings.
Albert's third inning in relief was when Camarillo stormed back. The Scorpions in the sixth got timely hits, beat out a throw to first on a would-be double-play ball that would've killed the rally and kept Newport Harbor ahead by one.
Instead, Camarillo tied the game at 6-6 and scored four more times. With a four-run lead in the seventh, the hosts were three outs away from ending Newport Harbor's season.
"We want to win or lose with Ryan Albert on the mound," Murphy said. "We brought him in a little earlier than usual. That inning he kind of lost a feel for his curveball a little bit.
"It wasn't an ideal situation [with the four players out]. Obviously, we feel for the kids and for the family and what they're going through, but we had to forge on."
CIF Divison I playoffs First round Adolfo Camarillo 10, Newport Harbor 6 SCORE BY INNINGS
Newport 0 4 2 0 0 0 0 — 6 11 1 Camarillo
2 1 1 0 0 6 X — 10 9 2 Grace, Albert (4) and Davey; Chamberlain, Erb (3) and Hindle. W — Erb. L — Albert, 5-3. 2B — Freiberg (NH) 2, Davey (NH). HR — Guerin (NH), Erb (AC), Yingling (AC).
CIF Playoffs Newport Harbor…6Camarillo…10