LAGUNA BEACH — It had been 11 years since the Laguna Beach High baseball program last hosted a CIF game when the Breakers took on Indio Thursday in the opening round of the Southern Section Division 4 playoffs.
Wanting to put on a good show in front of the home crowd and make the most of just their third overall home postseason game in their history, the Breakers did just that. They rallied early from a run down to knock off the visiting Rajahs, 5-2,at Skipper Carrillo Field.
Just like last year, Laguna advances to a second-round date. On Tuesday (3:15 p.m.) the Breakers will square off against El Segundo (Pioneer League No. 2) which blanked Monrovia, 2-0, in another first-round game Thursday. The site of the second-round game has yet to be determined, Laguna Coach Jeff Sears said Thursday night.
The Orange Coast League champion Breakers, the fourth-seeded team in the division, are now 26-2 overall.
Thursday's triumph was the first-ever home field playoff win for the program.
"They are probably one of the better teams we've played this year," Sears said of the Rajahs, the third-place team from the Desert Valley League who routed Bloomington, 16-1, in a wild-card game Tuesday. "They are well-coached and can hit the ball and I thought their pitcher (Edgar Gomez) was awesome."
Indio (18-8) took its only lead of the game in the top of the second inning. Clean-up hitter Alex Chavarria started the frame with a single to center field and left-handed hitter Jose Lopez took the first pitch offered by Chris Paul deep to right field. The ball banged off the top of the fence for a double which easily scored Chavarria. Paul then got Joseph Rivas to fly out to center field and then the Breakers came up with a big defensive play when Paul teamed with shortstop Keaton Jones to pick off Lopez at second. Ricky Lopez managed a single off Paul but then the senior ace, who got his 10th win (10-1) of the season, was able to catch Kristian Figueroa looking at strike three for the third out.
The Breakers got out of the inning trailing only 1-0.
The Rajahs also got a key pick-off in the bottom-half of the inning when pitcher Edgar Gomez threw out Alex Iannotti at second base for the third out.
The bottom of the order produced for Laguna in the bottom of the third to get the Breakers going and a huge shot by clean-up hitter Eric Peruzzi turned the game in Laguna's favor.
Larry Stewart opened the Laguna third with a sharp grounder that Rivas mishandled at second. With Stewart safely on board, Jake Herbert, Laguna's No. 9 hitter, laid down a beautifully-placed bunt that Chavarria, who caught for Indio, couldn't get to in time. Jones then ripped the next pitch by Gomez into the gap in left-center field to score Stewart and tie the score. With runners at second and third two outs later, Peruzzi hammered a 1-2 pitch high off the top of the fence in center field to drive in both Herbert and Jones. His two-out double put the Breakers in front to stay, 3-1.
Laguna sent eight men to the plate in the third.
The Breakers never trailed again.
"We've been doing that all year," Sears said of his team's big-play third-inning. "That drag bunt by Jake (Herbert) was incredible.
"Once we get the lead at home, we think the game's over. We're very, very good at home."
Laguna struck for its two final runs in the fifth to open up a 5-1 advantage. Jones drew a walk and Austin Paxson singled on a hit-and-run call. Two outs later, freshman Steven Harrison doubled off the wall in center field to score both runners.
Jones also picked up the save, his sixth of the year. He replaced Paul in the seventh after Indio had scored and put runners at first and second with nobody out. The Breakers caught a break when the Rajahs were called for runner interference on an infield grounder and the Breakers also got a force out at second for a double play. The game ended when second baseman Robbie McInerny fielded a grounder and flipped the ball to Stewart at first for the final out.
The win improved Laguna's all-time CIF playoff record to 3-6. The program has won two of those three games in the past two years. Last year, Laguna won their playoff opener, 11-6, at Don Lugo. The first postseason win came in 2000 against Capistrano Valley Christian (4-0).
Laguna's first hosted a playoff game in 1957 and lost, 10-6, to Fallbrook.
Sears said that Jones (6-0) will start Tuesday against El Segundo.