On an overcast, drizzly Friday afternoon in Encino, Michael Snyder and his euphoric Studio City Harvard-Westlake baseball teammates broke into a victory celebration they might never forget considering the obstacles they had to overcome.
They entered the bottom of the seventh inning trailing No. 1-seeded Orange Lutheran by two runs in the Southern Section Division 1 quarterfinals. The Lancers had given up no runs in two earlier playoff games. Their pitching staff was considered second to none.
Then came the improbable rally. Consecutive hits by Tyler Ganus and Jacob Galloway. A walk to Sam Biller to load the bases with one out. An RBI single by Pete Crow-Armstrong. A bases loaded walk to Tyler Cox to tie the score. Then, on the first pitch, Snyder lined a single down the left-field line to drive in the winning run in a 4-3 victory.
“I hit it, I started jogging, I see it, then run down to take my helmet off, make sure I touch first, then celebrate with my teammates,” Snyder said.
Orange Lutheran, which had beaten Harvard-Westlake in Cary, N.C., to win the National High School Invitational on April 6, was considered the best team in Southern California, and maybe the nation, for the regular season because of its pitching staff.
Starter Max Rajcic pitched four innings on Friday, giving up a home run to Snyder in the first inning. The Lancers overcame that deficit with three runs in the fourth off Harvard-Westlake ace Sam Hliboki. Tank Espalin delivered a two-run single during the rally.
That seemed to be an insurmountable lead. Christian Rodriguez, a Cal State Fullerton commit, came in and threw a scoreless fifth and sixth innings. Closer Evan Adolphus replaced Rodriguez after the two singles to start the inning but couldn’t close the game.
“Man, that was fun,” Harvard-Westlake coach Jared Halpert said. “That’s a ridiculously talented and well-coached opponent.”
Snyder, though, has come up big all season for the Wolverines (26-5-1).
“That kid has been our MVP our whole year,” Halpert said of the Washington signee. “He is a grinder. He’s selfless and he’s extremely tough.”
Harvard-Westlake, which was the No. 1 seed last year but lost in the first round, will play host to Huntington Beach in Tuesday’s semifinals. The Oilers defeated Aliso Niguel 2-1. Jake Vogel broke a 1-1 tie with a sixth-inning home run. Edward Pelc struck out seven and gave up two hits in six innings. Evan Fitterer struck out 10 for Aliso Niguel.
Cypress advanced to the other semifinal with a 5-1 win over Yucaipa. Cameron Repetti threw a complete game, striking out nine. Tyler Chaffee had three RBIs. Cypress will play the winner of Saturday’s game between La Mirada and Manhattan Beach Mira Costa.
In Division 2, Matt McClure threw his latest shutout to lift Santa Margarita to a 4-0 win over El Segundo. Redondo defeated Westlake Village Oaks Christian 5-3. The Dalquist brothers, Drew and Matthew, combined on a seven-hitter. Crescenta Valley defeated Quartz Hill 3-0 and Norco defeated Villa Park 4-1. Santa Margarita is at Redondo on Tuesday and Crescenta Valley will be at Norco.