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Warriors reach CIF baseball final

Joe Naiman

Village News Reporter

For the first time since 2006, Fallbrook High School reached the CIF baseball finals.

The Warriors advanced to the Division IV final with five wins in the double-elimination playoffs. Mission Bay defeated Fallbrook in the championship game May 27 at the University of California, San Diego.

"It was a great season," said Fallbrook coach Pat Walker.

The Warriors' regular-season record was 15-13. This year's Valley League consisted of five teams. Oceanside won the league championship with an 8-4 record in Valley League competition; Mission Vista had a 7-5 mark; Valley Center was 6-6; Fallbrook had a 5-7 statistic for fourth place in the final standings, and Escondido finished 4-8 in league play.

All five teams had winning overall records both for the regular season and at the conclusion of the playoffs, and all five teams were given berths in the CIF playoffs. Mission Vista was in the Division III playoffs while the other four Valley League teams participated in the Division IV postseason. Oceanside had the top seed in Division IV, Valley Center was seeded fourth, Fallbrook was given the fifth seed, and Escondido was the division's sixth seed.

The fifth through 12th seeds have play-in games with the winners advancing to the double-elimination portion of the tournament (the top four seeds have byes in that round). Fallbrook faced 12th-seeded Morse at home May 17.

In April, the Warriors won the Lions Tournament championship by defeating Morse in the AA Division final, and Fallbrook would defeat the Tigers in the play-in game. The Tigers scored the game's first run in the bottom of the first. Fallbrook tied the game with a run in the top of the second. Morse took a 2-1 lead with a run in the third. Fallbrook scored once in the fourth to make the score 2-2. Two Fallbrook runs in the sixth gave the Warriors a 4-2 victory.

Mitchell Baker received the pitching win for Fallbrook after hurling the first five innings and allowing two runs including an unearned one, six hits, and three walks. Jace Cervantes received the save after allowing one hit and one walk in two innings. Fallbrook batters drew six walks, including three by Anthony Thomas, and the Warriors obtained four hits consisting of two singles apiece by Tanyon Smith and Evan Thomas. Evan Thomas had two runs batted in and also reached base as a hit batter.

Valley Center hosted Fallbrook in the May 18 playoff game and defeated the Warriors by a 6-3 score. The Jaguars scored five times in the first. Fallbrook had three runs in the top of the fifth while Valley Center scored once in the bottom of that inning.

Castle Park was seeded ninth, defeated eighth-seeded El Capitan in the play-in, and lost May 18 at Oceanside. That put the Trojans into the May 20 losers' bracket game at Fallbrook. Cervantes pitched six scoreless innings while allowing four hits and three walks in the Warriors' 6-0 triumph; the only baserunner against Peyton Van Eik in the seventh was safe on an error.

The Warriors scored once in the first, four times in the second, and once in the fourth. Derek Torralba scored two of Fallbrook's runs, had two of the Warriors' eight hits, and drove in a teammate. Cervantes and Evan Thomas each had two hits, one run scored, and one run batted in. Baker drove in two runs and had a double for the Warriors' only extra-base hit.

The May 20 playoff between Oceanside and Valley Center was a no-hitter by Oceanside sophomore Zach Small as well as a 6-0 Pirates victory. That relegated the Jaguars to the losers' bracket and gave them a May 21 rematch against Fallbrook in Valley Center. Single runs in the second and third, three tallies in the fourth, and a score in the top of the seventh gave Fallbrook a 6-0 lead before a Jaguars run in the bottom of the seventh finalized the score at 6-1.

Baker threw a complete game for Fallbrook, allowing five hits and no walks while striking out 12. He also had a single and a double at the plate. Evan Thomas had singles in all three of his plate appearances, scored once, and drove in two runs. Austen Baker and Smith each had two hits while each scoring one run, and Austen Baker drove in a runner with a sacrifice fly. Cervantes had two hits and sent a teammate across the plate.

Fallbrook thus needed to defeat Oceanside twice on the Pirates' field to advance to the final. In the May 24 game, the Pirates scored in the bottom of the first and held the 1-0 lead until Anthony Thomas hit a two-run homer in the fourth which also scored Mitchell Baker. The 2-1 score was unchanged through the end of the game. Warriors pitchers held the Pirates to two hits; Cervantes allowed one in five innings while Ethan Rink surrendered one hit in two innings. Cervantes and Rink each struck out five batters.

The first scoring in the May 26 game was a two-run double by Oceanside's Jorge Garcia in the third. Fallbrook tied the game with two runs in the sixth and scored the winning run of the 3-2 match in the top of the seventh. Mitchell Baker threw the first four innings for Fallbrook while Van Eik hurled the final three. Van Eik allowed a walk and a hit batter but no hits while striking out four.

"There were three games that we had to come back to win," Walker said.

Including the CIF final and two of the playoff games, Fallbrook played 13 games in 2022 which were decided by one run. The Warriors were 9-4 in those. "The kids battled all year," Walker said. "The whole season was us battling and being resilient, never giving up."

The Warriors overcame opponent leads in 10 of their victories including the three in the postseason. "A lot of comeback wins," Walker said.

One of those was an 11-10 non-league home victory May 9 against Otay Ranch in which the Warriors overcame a 10-5 Otay Ranch advantage entering the bottom of the seventh in which Fallbrook scored six runs to win. That game was sandwiched between a 2-0 triumph April 30 at Oceanside and a 7-1 home win May 10 at Escondido which concluded regular-season play. Fallbrook thus won eight of nine games entering the CIF championship match. "That's awesome," Walker said.

"The playoff just was incredible," Walker said. "Every game was a miracle in the way we were resilient and came back to win."

The May 26 game gave Oceanside a final overall record of 23-9 with three of those losses being against Fallbrook. The May 26 game also ended the season for Rink, who was warming up in the bullpen and incurred an elbow injury. "We lost our number two pitcher at Oceanside," Walker said.

The Warriors lost their number one pitcher earlier; elbow tendinitis relegated Smith to the designated hitter role and his final pitching appearance of the year April 28 against Oceanside consisted of one inning.

Since 1990 pitchers have been limited to ten innings, defined as 30 outs, in a week. Since 2017, a pitcher who throws 76 or more pitches in a game may not pitch during the ensuing three days; a hurler whose outing involved between 51 and 75 pitches must not take the mound for the next two days, and a pitcher cannot return as a hurler the following day if he threw between 31 and 50 pitches. Cervantes threw 78 pitches May 24, eliminating him from pitching May 27. Baker threw 66 pitches May 26 and Van Eik threw 42 pitches that day, rendering them ineligible to pitch in the final.

"We ran out of pitching," Walker said.

Ironically fielding errors rather than pitching woes doomed Fallbrook in the championship game. "You have four or five errors in the final or in any game, it's going to be tough to win," Walker said.

The official scorer gave Fallbrook four fielding errors with some plays being ruled hits after the Warrior fielder did not make a clean play. Prior to the final, Evan Thomas, who was the Warriors' only starting freshman in 2022, had thrown seven innings in three appearances. He started the final and threw five innings. Killian Snyder, who relieved in the final, had previously hurled three innings in two appearances. Austen Baker, who is a sophomore, made his high school pitching debut in the final. The Warriors pitchers combined to issue seven walks while also hitting a batter, and they allowed five hits while striking out eight. Only one of the five runs they allowed was earned.

Mission Bay was the Division IV second seed, so the Buccaneers batted as the home team. In the top of the first, Torralba reached base on an infield error; Mitchell Baker doubled down the right field line and advanced Torralba to third; Anthony Thomas hit a sacrifice fly to center field which scored Torralba, and Austen Baker singled to left field to score Mitchell Baker. Smith then singled to advance Austen Baker before the third out was made. Mission Bay pitcher Van Playman then only allowed one Fallbrook baserunner in the next four innings; Mitchell Baker singled with one out in the third.

In the bottom of the second, the Buccaneers loaded the bases with one out on a single, a walk, and a hit batter, but Evan Thomas then obtained a foul pop up and a groundout.

Mission Bay scored in the third without a hit. A walk and two infield errors loaded the bases. Thomas walked Gavin Marzion on a full count to score Flynn Barnes. Jeremiah Morgan then lined out to end the inning.

With two outs in the bottom of the fifth, Josh Morgan reached base on an infield error and stole second. Marzion reached first on a ground ball which was ruled a single rather than an error. Josh Morgan tried to score on the play and was thrown out.

Fallbrook gained a 4-1 lead in the top of the sixth. Mitchell Baker reached base on an error and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Smith walked on a full count. Evan Thomas hit a ground ball which went past the first baseman with Baker scoring on the play. A pinch-hit single into left field by Wyatt Fieri scored Smith.

Jeremiah Morgan led off the bottom of the sixth with a walk on a 3-1 count. Mason Gallego singled up the middle. After Angel Laya flied out to center field Jacob Sloan walked on a 3-1 count to load the bases.

Barnes then hit a fly ball to the outfield, but the ball did not stay in the fielder's glove. Morgan scored while Gallego held up at third. Henry Hampton pinch-ran for Barnes. Isaac Trujillo singled to left field to score Gallego. Kaden Wheat struck out to give the Warriors two outs. On a full count Josh Morgan, lined a single into left field which scored Sloan and Hampton.

Playman pitched a complete game. Fallbrook's three batters in the top of the seventh flied out to left field, grounded out to shortstop, and grounded out to Playman to seal Mission Bay's 5-4 victory.

Fallbrook concluded the season with a 20-15 overall record. "I'm really proud of the kids and what they accomplished," Walker said. "I'm really impressed with those boys."

 

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