Not a word. Not a sound. Just blank stares and some tears for a Wolverine baseball team realizing that their Cinderella season had come to an end. Murrieta Mesa had spoiled Harvard-Westlake’s attempts to win their second CIF-SS Division I Championship in the last four years.
Just to get to this situation, the Wolverines who finished in third place in the Mission League had to win a wild card game, and games against four national powerhouses, including three opponents who were ranked in the top 25 teams in the state.
In the semifinals, Harvard-Westlake defeated JSerra, who was seeded number one in the bracket and second nationally according to MaxPreps.
In the first inning at San Manuel Stadium, home of the Inland Empire 66ers, the Rams took an early 1-0 lead, when Paul Giacomazzi ’16 misplayed a groundball in right field, allowing Murrieta Mesa’s leadoff hitter, who reached on a single to score.
However, the Wolverines returned the favor, scoring two runs in the bottom of the first after Jake Suddleson ’16 tripled to right field, driving in Giacomazzi who walked to leadoff the game for the Wolverines. The next hitter, John Thomas ’16 hit a sacrifice fly to the right fielder, allowing Suddleson to score, putting the Wolverines in front with a 2-1 lead.
In the second inning, both teams loaded the bases, however neither squad was able to capitalize on their abundance of base runners.
In the third inning, it appeared as though starting pitcher Cameron Deere ’16 had gotten into a rhythm, retiring three Rams in a row.
However, in the fourth inning, Deere got into some trouble, allowing Murrieta Mesa to load the bases behind a leadoff double. After just 3 1/3 innings, Deere’s high school pitching career was done, allowing seven hits and one earned run. He took over at third base for Nathaniel Kimmel ’17 as Gabe Golob ’16 took over on the hill for Deere. Golob was able to get a strikeout and a softly hit ground ball to preserve the Wolverine lead at 2-1 at the end of four innings.
In the fifth, the Rams threatened the Wolverines’ one-run lead, leaving two runners on base as Golob continued his dominant relief appearance.
After an uneventful sixth inning, the Rams were able to load the bases in the seventh, and then Golob promptly walked the next hitter, allowing Murrieta Mesa to tie the game at two. With only one out and the bases loaded, Head Coach Jared Halpert pulled Golob from the game, replacing him with closer Nico Mannucci ’17. The first batter that Mannucci faced hit a sharp ground ball to Thomas at shortstop, who threw out the runner at home, beating him by a step. With the bases still loaded, the next Ram hitter grounded a ball to Thomas, who calmly forced out the runner trying to take third, keeping the game tied at two.
Following Mannucci’s clutch top of the seventh inning, Julian Girod ’16 and Giacomazzi reached on perfectly placed bunts down the third baseline. But Suddleson could not drive in a run and the game headed to extra innings.
Mannucci continued his dominance in the eighth, with two strikeouts and a pop out. In the bottom of the inning, Leo Kaplan ’16 doubled to right field on an error. Kaplan then stole third base with no throw. Then in an interesting move, Murrieta Mesa coach Bryn Wade decided to intentionally walk Loren Franck ’18 and Casey Slattery ’17 to load the bases. Matt Thomas ’17 hit a soft line drive to center field, but Austen Salcedo ’16 made an impressive sliding grab to end the inning.
In the ninth, Mannucci allowed Salcedo to reach via a double to right, however, Mannucci picked him off at second base to end the threat. The Wolverines were unable to benefit from a Giacomazzi bunt for a single as he was thrown out at second on a steal attempt, and Suddleson followed with a pop out to center field.
With Mannucci having pitched 2 2/3 of relief, Halpert made the decision to replace him with Jesse Bergin ’18, who pitched a complete game just four days prior against JSerra. After the first batter Bergin faced grounded out, the second batter in the tenth frame singled, then advanced to second base on a Kaplan overthrow. Bergin then allowed the next Ram to reach base, putting runners on the corners. Murrieta Mesa subsequently scored the go-ahead run on a suicide squeeze.
However, the magic ran out for the Wolverines as they were retired in order by closer Zac Filos ’16.
Behind 7 1/3 of scoreless relief from Kevin Palm ’16, Murrieta Mesa had won their first Division I Championship in their playoff debut.
With the defeat, years of Little League, club ball, middle school and high school together had culminated in a tenth inning defeat in the championship game for 11 seniors. For the returning players, there is no assurance that they will return to this stage in their careers.
Next season, the squad will return underclassmen Bergin, Franck and JP Corrigan ’19. They will also rely on rising seniors Matt Thomas, Mannucci, Ben Geiger ’17 and Sam Peacock ’17 for leadership.