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Warriors win Valley League baseball championship

Joe Naiman

Village News Reporter

For the first time since 2006, Fallbrook High School’s baseball team won a league championship.

The Warriors finished the 2023 Valley League season with an 11-4 record in league competition. Escondido and Vista both had 9-6 Valley League records to share second place. El Camino was 7-8 in Valley League play; Valley Center had a 5-10 league record, and Mission Vista was 4‑11 in league games. Fallbrook had an overall record of 17-8-1 for the regular season.

“It was a very challenging league,” said Fallbrook coach Pat Walker. “The kids played really well to finish.”

On April 26, Fallbrook won a 4-1 home game against Vista while Escondido lost by a 2-1 margin at home in the Cougars’ matchup with El Camino. That gave Fallbrook a half-game lead in the league standings. Fallbrook and Escondido both won their April 28 games; the Warriors prevailed by a 2-1 margin at Vista while Escondido won a 3-2 game at El Camino. Escondido regained the league lead May 1 when the Cougars hosted Valley Center and obtained a 5-1 win while Fallbrook lost a 4-1 contest at El Camino.

El Camino traveled to Fallbrook for a May 3 game. The Wildcats scored four runs in the top of the first. Fallbrook scored three runs in the bottom of the first and then scored three times in the second to take a 6-4 lead. The Warriors added a run in the third and two tallies in the fourth. Two Escondido runs in the top of the seventh weren’t enough to stave off a 9-6 Fallbrook victory.

Tanyon Smith had a homer and two singles in four at-bats, scored three times, and drove in four runs. Evan Thomas had a hit and reached base twice on an error, and he scored all three times. Austen Baker had a single and a double in three plate appearances, scored once and drove in a run. Wyatt Fieri had a single and a sacrifice fly in his two plate appearances and drove in two runs.

Escondido played a May 3 game at Valley Center. The Jaguars scored runs in the first and third. An Escondido run in the top of the seventh prevented a shutout but not the 2-1 loss which returned Fallbrook to first place.

The third game between Fallbrook and El Camino was played May 5 at El Camino. Smith was the Warriors’ starting pitcher and struck out six batters in five scoreless innings. Peyton Van Eik hurled the final two innings and struck out two Wildcats. The two Fallbrook pitchers allowed a total of only five hits in the 6-0 victory.

Anthony Thomas had a home run and a single along with two runs batted in. Fieri had a double and batted in two teammates. Escondido hosted Valley Center that day and overcame a first-inning Jaguars run with a score in the fourth. The game went into extra innings, and the Cougars scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth.

Fallbrook closed out league play May 8 at Valley Center, who was Fallbrook’s opponent for the Warriors’ first two league games of the season. The Warriors completed the series sweep with a 3-1 triumph. Van Eik allowed three hits in five innings and Jace Cervantes allowed one hit in two innings.

“We finished very strong,” Walker said.

The win gave Fallbrook three consecutive victories to end the regular season. “That was really critical. We needed to win those three,” Walker said. “Solid defense in our last round of league play and pitching really helped.”

Because Escondido had won two of the three head-to-head games against Fallbrook, the Cougars would have been the designated league champion had both teams ended the season with 11-4 league records. The Cougars had two games in the final week, both against Mission Vista. The Timberwolves won both games: 5-2 May 8 at Mission Vista and 6-1 May 10 in Escondido.

“Beating El Camino and then going up and beating Valley Center with the Escondido loss sealed the deal,” Walker said.

In 2006 the Avocado League consisted of Fallbrook, Vista, Rancho Buena Vista, Oceanside, Carlsbad, and El Camino. Fallbrook won the league championship with a 12-2-1 record, Vista had the second-place mark of 11-3-1, and Rancho Buena Vista was 10-5 for third place. Fallbrook finished no higher than fourth in any of the ensuing eight seasons.

The Warriors joined the Valley League for 2015 and finished second, two games behind Ramona, in their initial year in the league. Fallbrook’s best league finish between 2016 and 2022 was third, which was accomplished both in 2018 and 2019. The coronavirus outbreak canceled the 2020 season prior to league play. Fallbrook had a 4-12 league record in 2021 worth fourth place in the standings. The 2022 Warriors were 5-7 in league play for another fourth-place finish.

Last year’s team had an overall record of 20-15. The 2006 Warriors reached the CIF Division I final when playoff divisions were based on enrollment rather than competitive balance. Fallbrook’s next trip to a CIF final was in 2022, when the Warriors were in Division IV. Mission Bay overcame a 4-1 Fallbrook lead for a 5-4 victory and the CIF championship.

The 18 players on the Warriors’ 2022 roster included 16 who returned for this season. “This is a group that went to the finals last year. One of our goals was to win a Valley League championship,” Walker said.

Eight of this year’s players are seniors. “Senior leadership was an important part, and these guys have built a really solid team culture, which I think was a big part of our season,” Walker said.

The Warriors were 9-1 in regular-season home games. Although four Fallbrook batters ended the season with batting averages above .300, the Warriors pitchers had a 2.86 earned run average as a team during the regular season with Van Eik posting an ERA of 0.62 during his 29 regular-season innings.

“Pitching and defense has got us where we’re at right now,” Walker said.

 

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