On a cool Friday evening in Long Beach, fans filled almost all of the seats at Blair Field anticipating a memorable Southern Section Division 1 championship baseball game between Trinity League rivals Santa Margarita and San Juan Capistrano JSerra.
It lived up to the hype of best friends facing off with neither wanting to give in. The intensity level could be seen with every big out causing players to express themselves with clutch fists or primal screams.
The game was scoreless until No. 9 hitter Dmitri Susidko of JSerra hit a line-drive single to left field to score pinch-runner Jackson Summers in the bottom of the eighth inning for a 1-0 victory over Santa Margarita.
“What a ballgame,” JSerra coach Brett Kay said. “What a battle of attrition.”
Kay gave a brief thought to pinch-hitting for Susidko. “I can’t remember the last time he got a hit,” he said. “He’s an electric player. You just have to believe in your guys.”
The hit came off Santa Margarita ace Collin Clarke, who was close to unhittable for much of the game. He gave up a hit to Dominic Smaldino in the first inning, then retired 18 consecutive batters. He struck out eight and walked none. The bottom of the eighth started with a one-out single by Jordan Marian, then a sacrifice.
Clarke was trying to emulate Santa Margarita’s standout pitcher of the past, Griffin Canning, who led the Eagles to the 2014 Division 1 title with a 3-1 win over Santa Ana Foothill. Clarke’s rise to prominence has made coach Chris Malec proud. “He blossomed and grew into something special,” he said.
Santa Margarita’s best opportunity came in the fifth inning when a walk and two hit batters loaded the bases with one out. Up came Santa Margarita’s best hitter, Luke Lavin. Pitcher Matt Champion got him to ground into a double play.
Division 1 baseball is different in the Southern Section. One peek at the lineups provided all you needed to know. The first six Santa Margarita batters were committed to UCLA, UCLA, Stanford, Washington, Ohio State and San Diego State. The first six JSerra batters were committed to USC, Oregon State, Cal, UC Santa Barbara, Northwestern and Washington.
Pomona Ganesha 7, Fillmore 0: Gabe Smith contributed a three-run triple in a five-run fourth and finished with three hits and four RBIs to help Ganesha (22-0) win the Division 7 championship.
Castaic 7, Hesperia Christian 0: Tyler Hawn struck out six, walked none and threw a four-hitter to lift Castaic to the Division 6 championship in its season as a varsity program.
Granada Hills 2, Cleveland 1: With the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the seventh, Andrew Cuevo got a groundout to help the top-seeded Highlanders hold on and advance to Wednesday’s City Section Open Division semifinals at USC. Easton Hawk struck out seven in six innings. Jackson Lyons and Miles Ortiz each had two hits. Granada Hills will face Carson, a 2-1 winner over El Camino Real on a walk-off squeeze bunt from JoJo Olloque in the eighth.
Birmingham 5, Narbonne 4: The Patriots got a walk-off win in the 10th inning and exceptional relief pitching from Kaden Taque, who struck out 10 and allowed one hit in six scoreless innings. Birmingham will play Palisades, a 9-1 winner over Garfield, in Wednesday’s semifinals at USC.