East County Sports

Eagles claim So.Cal. championship game

Granite Hills celebrates following the victory over Arlington on Saturday afternoon.





By Nick Pellegrino
ECS staff writer

GRANITE HILLS —- Throughout the CIF playoffs, both sectional and regional, any team which makes a great defensive play always seems to score in the very next half-inning.

The other become champions.

Despite seeing a runner thrown out at the plate, top-seed Granite Hills rallied from a 5-0 deficit to stun visiting Riverside-Arlington, 6-5, to claim the CIF Southern California Division III championship.

A five-run rally in the sixth inning turned the tide as the bottom of the Granite Hills batting order was able to turn over the batting card, allowing Austin Smith and Spencer Davis to each deliver two-run hits.

Smith drilled a line double to center field to trim the deficit to 5-4. Davis followed with a single good for two RBI, as Smith registered the go-ahead run.

In addition, Smith came in to relieve Eagle starting pitcher Noa Ponciano. Smith retired the Lions in order on a pair of strikeouts, then a ground ball to shortstop Camden Sos to garner the save.

With the triumph, Granite Hills (28-10 overall) equals a school mark for victories in a season, set three previous times (1998, 2005, ’07).

The game-changing play could well be the one that ended the fourth inning.

The Eagles’ James Taylor lined a basehit to right field, but Arlington defender Jake Khasaempanth fired a strike to catcher Jack Kleveno for the inning-ending tag on Cody Macias (double)., heating up an already contentious ballgame.

However, Ponciano shut the door, retiring six of the final seven batters he faced, finishing with six strikeouts without a walk. Coupled with Smith’s dominance from out of the bullpen, Granite Hills had a chance to rally.

In the decisive sixth, Sos and Macias singled, then Alex Gibaud was hit by a pitch to load the bases.

Then with two outs, James Taylor was struck by a pitch for an RBI, then Smith sent a line double deep to left field to trim the deficit to 5-4.

Moments later, Davis grounded a hard basehit to the middle. Running with two down, both Taylor and Smith scored for the first Granite Hills lead on the afternoon.

“It was a great feeling knowing that I was able to give our team the lead so late in the game,” Spencer Davis said. “This game is all about momentum and after we took the lead there was no stopping us. As for Smitty, he came in and got the job done as expected. Overall, a great way to end the season. It was an amazing season with a group of boys that I will never forget. Every time someone failed, there was another person ready to pick them up. This team was way more than a group of guys playing baseball. We grew to love each other like a family, which in the end helped us do as well as we did this season.”

Arlington’s Ryan Cole opened the scoring with a two-run homer to right to start a 4-run rally.

An inning later, the Lions made it 5-0, but Granite Hills answered on a solo homer from first baseman Tanner Vielguth, also on a drive to right. For Vielguth, it was his third homer of the season.

Granite Hills’ Smith and Macias each had two of the team’s 10 hits. Included was a double by Grant MacArthur. Ponciano finished the season with a record of 9-4, including victories in all four postseason starts.

“It was a crazy game,” Smith said. “We never gave up when we were down 5-1 and, man, our home crowd was loud today and got us going in the sixth. I love everyone coming out and rooting us on, and the team loves looking in the stands and seeing it’s packed. Going into the seventh with the lead, I knew I needed three outs and I was super confident with my ability to close it out.”

Arlington (23-12) saw eight different players record one hit each. Lions pitcher Andrew Rudd tossed three shutout innings before he reached his limit for the week.


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