The Yucaipa High School baseball team closed the regular season with bats blazing after traveling to Orange County to dispose of Crestview League champion Foothill 12-4 in a makeup game that was rained out earlier. The win followed closure to Citrus Belt League play that saw the Thunderbirds score 35 runs on 35 hits in two wins against Citrus Valley. YHS enters Southern Section, Division 1 playoffs at home on May 2 with a 24-5 record. It will have the task of trying to repeat as CIF-champions but last season it earned the title in Division 2.
Yucaipa’s batting order is fine-tuned and is hitting on all cylinders with power throughout. “There are no outs at all in our lineup,” said YHS coach Ralph Grajeda whose Thunderbirds lead Division 1 in hitting with a .360 team batting average. Grajeda pointed out those in the bottom three of his order, Trent Luther, Keyton Dawson, and Joseph Lomeli are all hitting well over .300. He said Michael Carpentier and Jordan Andrade are in the midst of long hitting streaks and Lomeli has been “tearing it up” recently.
Tyson Heaton will most likely pitch the playoff opener but that could change if YHS plays Ayala, who pinned a 6-4 loss on Heaton after he’d won 21 straight. Grajeda didn’t seem worried. “It was a playoff game atmosphere but we’d already clinched our league title and I really don’t think the competitive adrenalin kicked in for Heaton. We beat Ayala in the semifinals last year. You could tell they wanted it.”
Sports writers call Heaton one of the best in the state, yet Grajeda also has confidence in lefthander Julian Alvarez who is 6-0, with a 2.00 ERA. Alvarez was the winning pitcher against Redlands that provided Grajeda his 200th win as a head coach. The triple-threat Alvarez is the team’s leadoff man who’s batting .360 with 28 stolen bases.
Heaton is a multiple threat as well. Along with his 9-1 record and 1.66 ERA, Heaton bats cleanup and possesses a .340 average. Grajeda included Danny Garcia and Anthony Gibbons as reliable clutch hitters who have both recorded numerous game-winning hits.
Grajeda did not think decisive wins over Citrus Valley did anything to prepare his team for the playoffs. “We are prepared because we played an unforgivable schedule. We played some great Division 1 teams and I like how we navigated through it,” noted Grajeda. “After we played in the Boras Classic, I knew we were ready.” He considers Cypress as the team to beat “but D-1 is so talented you could throw a dart at ten other teams who could win it.” Despite being currently ranked as high No. 8 in state, Yucaipa enters the post season as the Division’s No. 7 seed.
If Yucaipa gets into a post season, high scoring slugfest, Grajeda is confident in making a call to his bullpen. On paper, senior Cody Westphal appears the most reliable. “We do not have a traditional bullpen. It’s more of a bullpen by committee,” explained Grajeda. He considered Ryan Bersamin the possible closer but said he would not hesitate to call on Wyatt Doty or Bradley Heacock.