You have to begin to wonder if Mission Viejo Capistrano Valley might be the team of destiny this season in high school baseball.
Its coach, Bob Zamora, in his 41st season, has his team one win away from the Southern Section Division 1 championship after the Cougars knocked off the last remaining seeded team, No. 3 Orange Lutheran, on Tuesday with a 4-2 semifinal victory at Hart Park.
“It’s very special,” Zamora said of a team that’s already been honored as the best in Southern California for its grade-point average but now gets to face Santa Ana Foothill on Saturday for the Division 1 title.
Capistrano Valley (24-10) has had more than a half-dozen players miss games because of injuries but keeps on winning. The starting pitcher, Connor Martin, was out 47 days because of a broken rib. He threw 2 2/3 innings against the Lancers, but his biggest contribution might have been his first sacrifice of the season in the third inning.
That was followed by RBI singles from Blake Fitzgerald and Joey Holman for a 2-1 lead that the Cougars never relinquished. Rhys Stevens, who also was injured at midseason, allowed one run in 4 1/3 innings of relief.
“I’m out of words,” Stevens said. “It was absolutely stunning to play like that. It’s an awesome feeling. We picked up for every guy who couldn’t play.”
The big question for Orange Lutheran was could the Lancers win a big game without ace Cole Winn, the Gatorade state player of the year, on the mound? The Lancers’ three pitchers walked four batters and three of them ended up scoring. Capistrano Valley’s two pitchers walked one.
“To only have one walk against a great team like this, that’s amazing,” said Fitzgerald, the Cougars’ catcher who calls every pitch for the pitchers.
Capistrano Valley had to play without starting outfielder Nathan Manning, who broke a finger on his left hand while practicing bunting. He came in as a pinch runner and scored.
“Not many people thought we’d make it this far,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s been so much fun.”
Foothill might be the hottest team left in Southern California. The Knights defeated La Puente Bishop Amat 7-1. They have wins over the defending Division 1 and Division 2 champions in the playoffs. Sean Higgins threw a five-hitter, walking none and striking out three. He also went four for four.
In Division 2, top-seeded Beckman rolled to an 8-1 win over Camarillo. Trevor Ernt threw five shutout innings and Connor McGuire hit a home run. Beckman will play Yucaipa, a 7-3 winner over Chino Hills Ayala. Jordan Andrade went four for four.