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Southern Section baseball: Crespi rallies late, tops South Hills for Division 2 title

Encino Crespi players rejoice after their 6-5 walk-off win over West Covina South Hills in the Division 2 final May 20, 2023.
Encino Crespi players rejoice after their 6-5 walk-off victory over West Covina South Hills in the Division 2 final Saturday at Blair Field.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
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In the most astounding comeback of the Southern Section baseball playoffs, Encino Crespi scored four runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to defeat West Covina South Hills 6-5 in the Division 2 championship game Saturday at Blair Field.

Chris Arce scored the winning run from second base with two outs after pinch-hitter Sean Sapp hit a slow roller to the right of pitcher Matt Moreno, who fumbled the ball and then threw wildly to first.

“Baseball brings strange things,” Crespi coach Mike Glendenning said. “You’ve never seen them all.”

Talk about strange things — Sapp is the player who was ejected last March by an umpire from a Mission League game when he uttered a profanity after striking out.

“Thank you for teaching me that lesson,” he said of the umpire.

This time, he stepped to the plate with the game on the line and kept his emotions in check, “a lot of breathing, a lot of calming myself down,” he said.

Crespi’s comeback was made possible by the Celts refusing to fold when things looked bleak. They fell behind 4-0 in the first inning, hurt by a three-run triple by Noah Malone off Crespi ace Isaiah Magdaleno. On the mound for South Hills was left-hander Sterling Patick, who came in with a 9-1 record and 0.30 ERA. He lived up to his reputation, striking out nine in six innings while giving up three hits.

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But the Celts made him work for every out in the final two innings and his pitch count reached 113, forcing him to leave the game in the seventh. At the same time, Crespi stayed close thanks to sophomore pitcher Tyler Walton, who threw 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief.

“I was waiting for us to break out,” Glendenning said. “It’s a tribute to the kids we practiced being in this situation. We prepared to be punched in the mouth but battled back. We fought all seven innings.”

The seventh started with Joshua Rodriguez getting a bloop single off reliever Joseph Moreno. Pinch-hitter Isaias Tirado was hit by a pitch. Diego Velazquez hit a two-strike RBI single. Arce walked on a three-and-two count to load the bases. In came Matt Moreno. He got the first out of the inning on a popup. Ethan Kodama delivered a two-run single to center to tie the score. Magdaleno struck out. Then came the final drama of Sapp making contact to win the game.

“I wasn’t shocked by it because we’ve done it several times this season,” Glendenning said.

The fact Glendenning is in his ninth season at Crespi after succeeding the legendary Scott Muckey is a story itself. Glendenning had five consecutive losing seasons after taking over in 2015. Who keeps their job at a private school with a record like that?

“We believed in what he was doing, the relationships he was building in youth programs,” athletic director Brian Bilek said.

One by one, Crespi players waited to have their photo taken with the championship plaque and their coach.

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“The minute I scored, I said, ‘We’re going to win this right now,’ ” Velazquez said.

It really did happen.

Anaheim Canyon 3, Irvine Crean Lutheran 0: Stanford commit Cohen Gomez threw six scoreless innings and Camden Goetz contributed a two-run single to lead the Comanches to the Division 4 championship. Gomez struck out five and walked two while scattering seven hits and repeatedly escaping potential scoring situations.

Aliso Niguel 11, San Marcos 1: The Wolverines won the Division 4 title. Damon Wolf threw a complete game and Jarett Sabol and Hayden Orrill each had two hits.

Peninsula 3, Apple Valley 0: Yuvan Anthony threw the shutout to lead Peninsula to the Division 5 championship.

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