High School Baseball: Sage battles top seed

Daily Pilot

Before Andy Berglund started getting post-victory high-fives from his Sage Hill School baseball players, the third-year coach received puzzled looks.

The latter were produced by his early mention of winning a CIF Southern Section championship soon after taking over at the Newport Coast private school.

"My first year here was pretty bad," said senior Patrick Vorwerck, who was a freshman when the Lightning went 9-12 to cap a three-year stint in which the program went 22-43. "We didn't really think winning CIF was in the realm of possibility."

That has all changed under Berglund, who guides the Lightning (20-5) into today's CIF Division VI semifinal against top-seeded Desert Christian (26-1). First pitch is 3:15 p.m. at Sage Hill.

The Lightning, 51-17 under Berglund, are just two wins away from the program's first CIF crown, only the third in any sport for the school that won section titles in girls' tennis and girls' volleyball in 2007.

But long before it recorded its first second-round win (3-1 over host Windward of Los Angeles on May 25) and quarterfinal triumph (6-5 at home against No. 4-seeded Vasquez of Acton on Friday), the Lightning had embraced Berglund's grandiose goals.

"Now, we see [a CIF title] happening," Vorwerck said.

Berglund said he believed last year's Sage squad had a chance to achieve his CIF title dreams. But the Lightning were bounced from the playoffs in the second round and finished 16-5, which was then a school single-season record for wins.

"We talked about [winning CIF] the first season I got here," Berglund said. "We set goals every year and our team goals this season were to win the Academy League, to win on the road in the playoffs and to go after a CIF title. To be just two games away is a great feeling."

Senior star A.J. Wolfson, who transferred from Laguna Hills to join Berglund's first Sage Hill team, said this group of seniors, which includes six starters, has long been intent on establishing a diamond legacy.

And while this team may already have done that, Wolfson said he and his teammates are far from satisfied.

"It feels good," Wolfson said after the historic quarterfinal win, in which he earned the pitching victory to improve to 8-1. "But I want to set the bar as high as it can go, and I think everyone here does, too. We're a very cohesive unit, we work well together and we practice hard together. There is a lot of talent on this team. We have six or seven starting seniors and all of them can play."

The Lightning, who did not lose in May, have won 10 straight and 16 of their last 17.

In addition to Wolfson, who is hitting .418 with five home runs and 30 runs batted in, the standouts include senior catcher Dusty Orrantia (.388 with 32 RBIs), senior pitcher-outfielder Alex Jimenez (8-2 with two saves and a 1.61 ERA) and sophomore second baseman Michael Yorita (.411 with a team-best 37 hits).

Lancaster-based Desert Christian, which has outscored opponents, 354-61, this season. is batting .480 as a team with a team ERA of 1.86. It has also stolen 99 bases in 104 attempts.

The Knights, coached by Dennis Shryock, are led by seniors Taylor Aikenhead and Tyler Shryock, junior James Grandpre and sophomores Brett Baughman and Chance Gusbeth.

Aikenhead is hitting .538 with 50 runs batted in and is 12-1 with a 1.24 ERA.

Grandpre is hitting .560 with four homers and 41 RBIs, while Tyler Shryock is hitting .474 with six homers, 33 RBIs and is 28 for 28 in stolen-base attempts.

Baughman is hitting .584 with 24 extra-base hits, 44 RBIs and 11 steals, while Gusbeth is batting .543 with five homers, 233 RBIs and 20 steals.

Gusbeth (0.83 ERA in 25 1/3 innings) and Shryock (1.89 ERA in 33 1/3 innings) are both 4-0 as pitchers.

Today's winner advances to Friday's 4:30 p.m. title game at UC Riverside against either No. 3-seeded Oxford Academy or Crossroads.

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