Jimenez a leader in Lightning's best season

Daily Pilot

When the week began, Friday was supposed to be Alex Jimenez's best day as a student-athlete. He was going to receive his diploma from Sage Hill School.

On the same day, Jimenez planned to earn the baseball team's first CIF Southern Section Division VI championship.

The times and sites for both events eventually conflicted. The graduation ceremony on campus was set for 4 p.m. The game was starting a half an hour later in Riverside.

Jimenez walked at Sage Hill. The senior never jogged on the field one last time as a Lightning in the program's biggest game.

Jimenez's Sage Hill athletic career ended Tuesday at home, where the Lightning lost to top-seeded Desert Christian of Lancaster, 4-3, in the semifinals.

"Most schools that are 10 years old don't make it to the semifinals," Jimenez said. "It wasn't like we played a bad game.

"The way I was pitching [Tuesday] was pretty lights out until that [sixth] inning. That was kind of an anomaly for me, just kind of having it explode on me."

Without Jimenez, Sage Hill (20-6) doesn't turn in its finest season. The Lightning set a record for victories in a season.

The right-hander gave his team a chance to win every time out on the mound. He finished with an 8-3 record this season, giving him an 18-5 overall record the past two seasons.

Jimenez lifted the Lightning to the quarterfinals for the first time after they suffered back-to-back second-round exits on the road. He threw five strong innings, allowing one run and three hits in a 3-1 victory against Windward in Los Angeles.

In the following playoff game, Jimenez entered as the closer. Vasquez, from Acton, rallied for three runs in the seventh. With two outs and the Lightning ahead by one at home, Jimenez shut the door.

Jimenez earned the save as Sage Hill beat fourth-seeded Vasquez, 6-5, to reach the semifinals. The postseason run continued at home.

Taking the ball against Desert Christian, a team with only one setback, was Jimenez. It took the Knights until the fifth inning to record their first hit.

Jimenez doesn't throw hard, but he hit the corners and pounded the inside of the plate for 5 2/3 innings. He had to in order to be successful against a potent offense.

At 6-feet, 170 pounds, Jimenez doesn't appear intimidating. Neither is one of his favorite pitchers, Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants.

"He's actually almost smaller than I am," Jimenez said of the 5-11 Lincecum, a two-time National League Cy Young Award winner. "He's got good technique. The physics behind [pitching], it's just not your weight that gives the ball velocity. Coaches get caught up on guys that are big because they know they can generate velocity just with their size, but then you lose out a bit in the actual knowledge of how to pitch, how do you hit your spots, recognizing what kind of batter is [up] and the way you need to pitch them."

Jimenez learned the hard way about pitch selection against Desert Christian with two outs in the sixth.

The couple of times he left the ball over the plate, it led to a game-tying solo home run and a go-ahead RBI single.

"That guy [Tyler] Shryock, he got to be the hero and I got to be the guy who got owned," said Jimenez, referring to the home run to right field. "The home run was big and it [gave them] their momentum."

The Knights jumped ahead, 4-1. The Lightning struck back in the bottom of the seventh, scoring twice to cut the deficit to one.

With the bases loaded and two outs, Sage Hill was one hit away from winning in walk-off fashion and facing Oxford Academy, which won the Academy League crown over the Lightning, in the section finale.

Even though Sage Hill fell short, battling back showed Jimenez how far the program has come in Andy Berglund's three years as coach.

"Freshman, sophomore year, if we would've been up, 1-0, and then that team came [back] and smacked us down [by taking a] 4-1 lead in the [sixth] inning, there wouldn't have been no fighting back," Jimenez said. "[Berglund] convinced everyone on the team that didn't think that they were actually as good as they were, that they were.

"We didn't know much about [Berglund when I was a sophomore]. When I first met him, he looked like a guy who knew his stuff. He's turned out to be a guy who knows his stuff pretty well. He's led us to three consecutive CIF appearances."

Alex Jimenez Hometown: CoronaBorn: Jan. 17, 1992Height: 6 feetWeight: 170 poundsCoach: Andy BerglundFavorite food: TacosFavorite movie: "Semi-Pro"Favorite athletic moment: "Throwing two no-hitters against Whitney [as a freshman and sophomore]."Week in review: Jimenez pitched five innings in a 3-1 win over Windward in second round of CIF Division VI playoffs. In a 6-5 quarterfinal win over Vasquez, he recorded the final out and earned the save.

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