Golden Knights rally for playoff spot

PASADENA — In control of its own destiny, the St. Francis High baseball team wasn't going to squander an opportunity to lock up an automatic playoff berth.

The path to grab a playoff berth was clearly defined before the Golden Knights took to the field for their regular-season finale against Loyola on Thursday afternoon — win and they would clinch a playoff spot.

St. Francis responded to the challenge, as it got big hits from David Hubinger and Pete Hofman to record a 9-4 Mission League victory at Jackie Robinson Field.

"It's great to get to the playoffs after winning our last three games," St. Francis Coach Brian Esquival said. "We put the ball in play when we had to and they executed when they had to.

"We've been talking about how we can do that throughout the whole season. In the last three games, they were able to get it figured out."

St. Francis (14-13, 6-6 in league) tied for third in league with Alemany and will take part in the CIF Southern Section Division II playoffs, which will be unveiled Monday.

Loyola (12-17, 3-9) gave St. Francis enough fits in the first part of the game. The Cubs built a 4-2 lead in the third, but the Golden Knights responded in the middle innings to complete the two-game season series sweep.

Two passed balls in a row in the bottom of the third helped the Golden Knights deadlock the contest at 4. St. Francis then took a 5-4 lead when Phillip Dezotell hit a sacrifice fly to left in the fourth.

Then the Golden Knights enjoyed their finest inning in the fifth. A run-scoring single by the Pepperdine University-bound Hubinger made it 6-4 before Hofman came through with a two-run triple to left to extend the lead to 8-4.

Hubinger, a reigning All-Area first-team pick, said Hofman's hit allowed the Golden Knights to develop a large enough cushion.

"That was the big hit right there by Pete," Hubinger said. "We had the big lead now.

"It's been a season of answering back and responding to adversity. We had to bounce back these last three games. We had to go out there and take care of our own business."

St. Francis closed out the scoring in the fifth on a ground out by Brandon Van Horn.

Hofman said the Golden Knights didn't want to rely on other teams in the league to help them out.

"We went out there and did what we had to do," Hofman said. "We were really fired up coming into the game.

"We knew that we had to come out and play hard and we were able to execute."

The Golden Knights took a 1-0 lead in the first when David Olmedo-Barrera scored on a wild pitch. After the Cubs responded with a run in the second to tie the game at 1, St. Francis took a 2-1 lead in the second on a suicide squeeze bunt by Van Horn that brought in a charging Anders Schraer.

"That's a big play on the suicide squeeze," said Esquival, whose team collected nine hits. "That's a perfect example of being able to execute."

The Golden Knights received two hits apiece from Tei Vanderford and Hofman. Vanderford went the first four innings to pick up the victory on the mound. Reliever Chris Longo went the final three innings to earn the save.

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