High School Baseball: Sage's playoff run ends

Daily Pilot

NEWPORT COAST — Alex Jimenez goes by "Boom" at Sage Hill School. He showed up to the baseball field one day three years ago with a hat that read, "Boom."

For 5 2/3 innings at home Tuesday, the hat fit Jimenez on the mound. He was on his way to turning off the lights on top-seeded Desert Christian's season.

In a CIF Southern Section Division VI semifinal game, the Lightning had upset on their minds. Their starter was one out away from throwing six scoreless innings against a team that had only lost once this season.

Just one more out and Jimenez allows Sage Hill to enter the seventh with the lead and believing the program's first section title appearance was realistic.

With the Lightning ahead by one, Jimenez jumped ahead of the batter with an 0-2 count. Still ahead, Jimenez fired a pitch that Coach Andy Berglund wishes he had not.

"That was the pitch that I was supposed to throw," Jimenez said of a fastball high in the strike zone. "It's just up in their face, so they see it fat, but they can't hit it fat.

"I really need to work on throwing that pitch, because almost every time we call it, I leave it about letter high, and that's the kill zone."

Desert Christian pounced on the opportunity. One swing of the bat is all it took to swing the momentum the other way.

Tyler Shryock tied the game with a home run to right field. The Knights weren't finished in the sixth, scoring three more times to take a three-run lead.

Sage Hill fought back in the bottom half of the seventh, scoring twice and then loading the bases with two outs. Starter Taylor Aikenhead got the third out and Desert Christian a 4-3 victory.

The Lightning (20-6) were left stranded at home.

The Knights (26-1) rode back to Lancaster with their 19-game winning streak intact. They haven't lost since March 23.

Berglund understands why his team fell short of reaching Friday's championship game at UC Riverside.

"You can't expect a team that comes in with 350 runs to not try to put some runs on the board," Berglund said of the Knights' big bats. "They got those four huge runs in the [sixth]."

The first run didn't bother Jimenez (8-3) as much as the one that gave Desert Christian its first lead. That's where things eventually got away from him.

Jimenez looked strong heading into the sixth, the inning before he gave up his only hit. After he got the first two batters he faced out in the sixth, the senior then ran into trouble.

The Knights got timely hitting, a home run, followed by an infield single and then a single to center that put Desert Christian ahead, 2-1.

"It's the idea of like … you [mess] up one pitch and everything you did before doesn't matter," said Jimenez, who was pulled in favor of A.J. Wolfson in the sixth. "The thing was it didn't have to turn into four runs. The one that really kind of stuck it in for me was the guy hitting the upper-middle [pitch]. I knew that pitch too that I got a little bit down on myself and I kind of left it there for him.

"It kind of sucks to go out on a loss and everything, but [it's] not like [this playoff run] hasn't been pretty good for me."

Jimenez played a vital role to Sage Hill's magical season. The Lightning were looking to push their school record for wins in a season and their winning streak to 11 games.

In the sixth, Dusty Orrantia doubled with one out. Berglund had Mark Loper pinch run for Orrantia.

The next batter was Darren Hardy. He singled, but the runner was held at third. Hardy took off for two with the throw home, but he was thrown out at second.

Aikenhead left the runner at third after inducing a groundout. The left-hander pitched brilliantly after allowing a first-inning home run to Wolfson. The shot to left-center field was Wolfson's sixth homer, a single-season school record.

From the second to the sixth, Aikenhead (13-1) used a changeup to keep hitters off balance. He knew Sage Hill wasn't going down without a fight.

Jimenez led off the seventh with a walk. Two infield singles later, the lead was cut in half. Sage Hill got within one run on Sean Vogel's fielder's choice.

Vogel moved to second after Aikenhead balked. On the next pitch, Aikenhead helped himself out with a strikeout. With two outs and Wolfson up next, the Knights intentionally put the senior on first.

The Lightning were in business after Shryock committed an error on Orrantia's grounder to shortstop. Sage Hill had the bases loaded and two outs.

Everything seemed in place for a comeback win. Sage Hill's second fastest runner, Brandon Zelner, was the go-ahead run at second. Up at-bat was Hardy, the No. 5 hitter, who had two hits.

"When we fight back, every time I've been here … we've won," Wolfson said. "It hasn't happened too many times, but every time we've done that we've won."

The only walk-off Wolfson and six other seniors experienced was the one off Sage Hill's field for the last time.

It was hard to say goodbye.

CIF Division VI Semifinal Desert Christian 4, Sage Hill 3 SCORE BY INNINGS

Desert Christian 0 0 0 0 0 4 0 — 4 6 3 Sage Hill

1 0 0 0 0 0 2 — 3 5 0 Aikenhead and Grandpre; Jimenez, Wolfson (6) and Orrantia. W – Aikenhead, 13-1. L – Jimenez, 8-3. 2B – Eitner (DC), Grandpre (DC), Orrantia (SH). HR – Wolfson (SH), Shryock (DC).

CIF Playoffs Sage Hill…3Desert Christian…4

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