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CIF baseball: The clutch ’Cats

Rusconi knocks in two runs to help West Ranch rally past No. 1 seed

Posted: May 26, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: May 26, 2012 1:55 a.m.

West Ranch High School’s Gabe Peralta, center, lifts Jagger Rusconi in the air as the team celebrates its win over Orange Lutheran High in the CIF-Southern Section Division I quarterfinals at West Ranch High on Friday. The Wildcats become the first Foothill League baseball team to make a Division I semifinal.

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Friday was senior night for West Ranch High, as graduation ceremonies took place at College of the Canyons.

But during the afternoon, it was one freshman’s day.

Wildcats freshman second baseman Jagger Rusconi, battered earlier in the game by two balls off his right knee, knocked in the tying and go-ahead runs in the bottom of the sixth inning of West Ranch’s 5-4 win over Orange Lutheran at West Ranch High School in the quarterfinals of the CIF-Southern Section Division I.

After beating the nation’s No. 1 team, according to maxpreps.com, West Ranch became the first Santa Clarita Valley baseball team to reach a division semifinal since Hart did in 2004.

The Wildcats (20-8-1) will face the surprise of Division I, Corona, a wild-card team that started its run by beating Valencia May 15, on Tuesday at Long Beach State’s Blair Field at either 4 p.m. or 7 p.m.

Corona (18-14) shocked No. 4 seed El Dorado 7-4 on Friday.

West Ranch did its own shocking by jolting the No. 1 seeded Lancers.

“It’s incredible,” Rusconi said. “Not just to beat a team that is considered one of the best, but because it was a team victory.”

True.

But Rusconi, who has been one of the Santa Clarita Valley’s most dependable hitters all season long, came up with the biggest hit of his life.

After Orange Lutheran (23-5) scored on Dalton Frize’s single in the top of the sixth to take a 4-3 lead, the Wildcats attacked immediately.

Justin Hovis led off the bottom of the sixth with a ground-rule double, but that was followed by two pop outs.

Lancers starter Art Moran-Vidrio then walked J.D. Krauskopf and his day was done.

Reliever Chris Wichmann came in and hit Gabe Peralta with a pitch.

That brought Rusconi to the plate with all the pressure on him.

Wichmann quickly got Rusconi in a 1-2 hole.

Rusconi, who took a line drive off the right knee in the second inning and then fouled a ball off the same knee in the fifth inning, admitted he was a little nervous in the situation.

...But

“The pressure made me better,” he said. “He threw me one too many curveballs.”

The freshman lifted Wichmann’s fifth pitch to deep center field. It one-hopped over the short fence for a two-run ground-rule double.

“He doesn’t play like (a freshman),” said West Ranch head coach Casey Burrill. “You could feel it coming. The dugout was saying he was going to get us something. He’s been our most clutch hitter all year. To no one’s surprise, he was today.”

West Ranch still had work to do.

The task of getting the final three outs was Avery Ortiz’s.

He got the first out — a flyout by Cody Nulph to the right field wall.

Ortiz then went 0-2 on Tommy Bell before hitting him in the back.

After an intentional walk, he was removed in favor of Cody Bennett.

With four pitches, Bennett got a flyout and a groundout to end the game.

“It didn’t go our way,” said Lancers head coach Eric Borba. “They got the big hits when they needed them the most.”

Both teams did early off each other’s ace.

Cloney battled command issues early.

He surrendered a run on Travis Blue’s hard-liner groundout off Rusconi’s knee in the second inning then two more runs in the third off RBI singles from Josh Morgan and Matt Carlson. That gave Orange Lutheran a 3-1 lead.

West Ranch scored an early run on Casey Gahan’s double-play groundout in the second.

The Wildcats tied it in the fourth with a leadoff home run from Tyler Woldanski and a squeeze bunt by Tony Slauson.

Both starting pitchers weren’t at their best, but they kept their teams in the game.

West Ranch just managed to get the last big hit in the game.

And now they move on to play their next biggest baseball game in school history.

661-287-5529

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