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La Cañada baseball books historic trip to first CIF championship

La Cañada baseball books historic trip to first CIF championship
La Cañada High's Ryan Graves, right, and coach Matt Whisenant are headed to the CIF Southern Section Division III championship game Saturday at Dodger Stadium. (Tim Berger \ Staff Photographer)

HESPERIA — The La Cañada High baseball team has shown its patience throughout the CIF Southern Section Division III playoffs.

In the second round, the Spartans went the distance to win in nine innings. Then, in the quarterfinals, they won by one run in 11 innings.

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In a playoff game at Oak Hills on Tuesday, the La Cañada players spent an hour-long bus drive playing video games and napping before suiting up for the program’s first semifinal appearance since 1984.

After tough at-bats in the opening two innings in the program’s second division semifinal, the Spartans opened the floodgates in the third.

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La Cañada scored five runs in the third and six in the fifth to book a trip to its first CIF championship game with a 13-2 victory against Oak Hills.

La Cañada (22-7) will face No. 4 Great Oak in the Division III final at Dodger Stadium on Saturday at a time to be determined. Great Oak defeated Yorba Linda, 3-1, in their semifinal.

“I just think the kids were really confident,” La Cañada third-year coach Matt Whisenant said. “Those were such big character-builders for us — those two, tight wins. I couldn’t be prouder of those kids and I’m so excited for them to walk out on that field for the first time.”

The Spartans battled through extra innings in their two previous playoff rounds with a 2-1 win against Warren in nine innings in the second round and a 2-1 triumph against Ocean View in 11 in the quarterfinals.

Oak Hills (20-7) defeated Woodcrest Christian, Victor Valley and Torrance to reach the semifinals.

La Cañada starting pitcher Connor Buchanan threw 4 2/3 innings. He struck out five, walked two and yielded six hits.

At the plate, the senior drove in five runs and scored three runs on three hits. He hit two home runs and one double.

“He’s an incredible impact kind of guy,” said Whisenant of Buchanan. “If you pitch to him, he can do some damage and if you pitch around him. Luckily we had some guys behind him that can get him to score. It’s kind of the reason why we have him in the lineup so far up so we can get as many runs off him as we can.”

Spartans third baseman Tai Walton also hit two home runs and recorded three runs batted in.

La Cañada first baseman Zach Feehan, right fielder Michael Lauenstein, second baseman Jacob Torres and designated hitter Timmy Park all drove in runs.

“I think the confidence level was palpable today,” Whisenant said. “You felt like we were going in and going to do really well and we did. All our guys up and down the lineup just had so many good at-bats.”

The Spartans got on the board with an RBI-double from Park in the third.

The Rio Hondo League champions made it a 2-0 lead when shortstop Ian Tinkham’s routine pop-up to left grazed the fielder’s glove to score Park.

Buchanan followed up with a double, before Walton knocked delivered with a two-run home run to center field to make it 5-0. The Spartans brought 11 batters to the plate in the inning.

Oak Hills, the Mojave River champion, responded in the bottom of the third and cut the Spartans’ lead to 5-1 when first baseman Jacob Rangel scored Christen Rodriguez, who was in scoring position after a lead-off double, on a one-out single.

The Spartans started the sixth with four consecutive hits and began with a lead-off double from catcher Jason McCubbin. Feehan doubled to score McCubbin to make it 6-1, and Lauenstein recorded a run-scoring triple to extend the visitor’s lead. Torres capped the four-hit frenzy with a single to score Lauenstein for an 8-1 lead.

Buchanan then knocked belted a three-run homer to left center field to finish off a six-run fifth inning with an 11-1 lead.

“We were looking a lot on the outside because the umpire giving them that and they were throwing an off-speed fast ball out,” Buchanan said. “We just covered the plate a little, looked for that and got it.”

Oak Hill had back-to-back two-out singles to set up runners on second and third before a single drove one home to cut the La Cañada lead to 11-2 in the fifth, where Evan Umland relieved Buchanan for 1/3 inning.

In the seventh, Buchanan swung on a 1-1 pitch for a solo shot to center field to extend La Cañada’s lead to 12-2, before Walton followed up with another solo home run to cap the Spartans’ scoring.

“We have to double the intensity every time we come out on the field,” Walton said. “Leave everything out on the field like it’s your last game, because it very well could be. We just had to come out and attack. We hit the ball pretty well against all their pitchers. It was a little slow in the beginning, but we got it going.”

Umland retired seven consecutive batters to send La Cañada to its first division final. The sophomore struck out three in 2 1/3 innings of relief.

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