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CIF baseball: One run and done

West Ranch’s string of clutch playoff performances comes to an end in semifinals against Corona

Posted: May 30, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: May 30, 2012 1:55 a.m.

West Ranch pitcher Cody Bennett throws against Corona High during Tuesday’s CIF-Southern Section Division I semifinal game at Blair Field in Long Beach. Bennett tossed seven innings, allowing two runs off five hits while striking out six.

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LONG BEACH — The timely hit.

It’s what West Ranch baseball lived by for the entire CIF-Southern Section Division I playoffs.

In the semifinals, it’s what the Wildcats didn’t get.

West Ranch was stifled by the pitching of Daniel Pena and lost 2-1 on Tuesday to wild-card Cinderella team Corona at Blair Field in Long Beach, preventing the Wildcats from becoming the first Foothill League team to ever reach a Division I final.

“Disappointed, to say the least,” said West Ranch designated hitter Gabe Peralta. “I really thought we would pull it out. … Just didn’t get the big hits.”

Peralta faced a full count against Pena in the bottom of the seventh inning with two out and the Wildcats (21-9-1) trailing 2-1. The senior laced a single into left field to keep hopes alive.

Freshman Jagger Rusconi, the hero in last Friday’s 5-4 win over national No. 1 Orange Lutheran, stepped to the plate.

In that game, Rusconi delivered a two-run double, knocking in the tying and go-ahead runs.

But on Pena’s second pitch, Rusconi popped out to first base to end the game and the Wildcats’ season.

Pena came up with his third win of the postseason, beginning with his May 15 shutout of Valencia in the wild-card round.

His Tuesday outing was similar to that of his game against the Vikings. He relied on a tailing fastball that hugged the outside corner and mixed in a change-up and curveball.

In seven innings, he struck out four batters, allowing six hits and one walk.

“I wanted to go get them and let my defense play,” Pena said. “I wanted them to put it in play. I guess it worked.”

On the other side, junior right-hander Cody Bennett was matching him.

Bennett also used a three-pitch mix to keep the Panthers (19-14) off balance.

Corona’s small ball, though, gave the Panthers a jumpstart.

In the top of the third inning, freshman John Gonzalez singled for Corona’s first hit.

He was moved to third base after a sacrifice bunt and groundout, then scored on a Zak Cavazos single.

West Ranch got run back with small ball itself.

In the bottom of the third, Tony Slauson earned West Ranch’s first hit with a bunt single.

Two batters later, he scored on a throwing error by Corona third baseman Matt Majher.

West Ranch loaded the bases with two out, but left the three runners stranded.

In the top of the fifth, it was Gonzalez again who singled.

With West Ranch’s defense expecting bunt, Majher slapped  an RBI double down the left field line to give the Panthers a 2-1 lead.

“That’s two feet more inside and that’s a double play,” said West Ranch head coach Casey Burrill. “We talked about catching a break (to win in the playoffs). Maybe we lost our mojo and didn’t catch the break.”

For Bennett, it was hard luck.

He went seven innings, allowing five hits, striking out six, walking two and hitting two batters. Of his pitches, 70 percent were strikes.

“Everything was good today,” Bennett said. “They had the lucky hits — we didn’t.”

West Ranch had an opportunity with runners on first and second in the sixth inning, but Pena put Slauson away with a two-out flyout.

It was a rare year for Santa Clarita Valley baseball — three teams reached at least the quarterfinal stage, with West Ranch and Saugus doing it out of the Foothill League in Division I and Santa Clarita Christian doing it in Division VII.

But West Ranch’s season trumps all of them.

The Wildcats had their greatest season ever, making it past the second round of the playoffs for the first time in the program’s six-year varsity history.

It was the best run of any Foothill team since Hart’s run to the semifinals in 2004.

With that, West Ranch baseball is on the map.

NOTE: In the other semifinal game, Newbury Park defeated Mater Dei 5-3 on Tuesday. Corona and Newbury Park will meet on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Dodger Stadium for the Division I championship.

661-287-5529

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