After its second-round playoff game at Valencia West Ranch last Tuesday, Yucaipa High School baseball coach Ralph Grajeda used the term “dodged a big bullet” when talking about his team’s 1-0 win to advance into the playoff quarterfinals. Not only did YHS have a hard time hitting bullets thrown by West Ranch pitcher Cade Nicol, it had to dodge a formal clerical protest to CIF officials by Wildcats’ coach Casey Burrill. YHS improved to 26-5. West Ranch finished at 24-6.
Despite obstacles and with help from senior lefty pitcher Julian Alvarez, the Thunderbirds prevailed and moved into the elite eight among CIF-SS, Division 1 contenders. They were eventually eliminated at Cypress on Friday. At West Ranch, Alvarez fought through wildness and without control of his usually effective curve to complete his two-hit gem. Alvarez was magical as he escaped five serious threats. He walked the hitter leading off an inning four times and had the tying run at second base with one out in the seventh.
Alvarez admitted that he felt nervous in the first inning but steadied himself enough to overcome challenges throughout the contest.
“This was my first playoff game. I did not have my best stuff so I just challenged them with fastballs, changed speeds and relied on the great team behind me,” said Alvarez. “I knew where I had to bear down in their order. They didn’t do much.”
Alvarez ended his All-Citrus Belt League season at 7-0 with a 1.71 ERA.
Alvarez went the first 3.1 innings without allowing a hit. Garrett Monhelm got the Wildcats second hit in the sixth inning but Alvarez immediately picked him off. Along with guiding Alvarez through rough spots, YHS catcher Michael Carpentier helped by throwing out a runner trying to steal second base in the second inning.
“Today was not indicative of how good we are,” said Grajeda. “We pressed too much but at this point, we’re OK.”
He called Alvarez an “emotional competitor.” The emotions began running so deep that in the sixth inning, players had to be pulled apart to stop a full blown melee.
West Ranch pitcher Cade Nicol held Yucaipa hitless for six innings. The only run he allowed was unearned in the seventh inning. Tyson Heaton started the decisive rally by working a walk. Trent Luther’s potential double play ball to second base was bobbled for an error. Anthony Gibbons’ single loaded the bases, setting up Joseph Lomeli’s, two out, game-winning infield single that scored Heaton.
“When I went to bat I felt something good was going to happen,” said Lomeli.
However, Lomeli didn’t know for sure if those good feelings would remain until the following morning when it was reported that West Ranch’s protest was denied. Grajeda explained that he was knowledgeable of the rule that basically puts limits on most “soft toss” pre-game batting warmups. Grajeda was more concerned that people would think of Yucaipa as cheaters. “There was no malfeasance intended,” said Grajeda. “The protest was pre-meditated, lacked class and was sour grapes.”
Burrill’s protest was lodged before the game. He did not comment about it but called the game “filled with drama” and one that could have gone either way. He predicted the pitcher’s duel and credited remarkable efforts by Nicol and Alvarez, who Burrill called a great pitcher.
“He did everything he had to do against our left-handed heavy lineup.”