For the 13 seniors finishing out their Christopher High baseball career, along with every single player for that matter, these last few games of the season are everything. No less than legacy is on the line. And thanks to a heart-stopping, come-from-behind victory against St. Ignatius earlier in the week followed by a convincing win over Aptos, the No. 3 seed Cougars (22-8) punched their ticket to the Central Coast Section Division II final against Sacred Heart Cathedral on Friday at San Jose Municipal Stadium at 7 p.m.
This is the first time the Cougars have advanced to a section final, coming off a semifinal appearance a year ago. Unlike the St. Ignatius game, the 6-0 statement victory over No. 2 Aptos was never in doubt, but that doesn’t mean it lacked drama. The game had all the makings of a great match up: A terrific pitching dual between two starters who didn’t allow a run through the first three innings. However, freshman Ricky Becker had a single and Cooper Ahola walked in the fourth inning, part of a three-run surge.
Aptos committed six errors that led to a handful of Christopher runs. Garret Santos was the only Christopher player who had a RBI. The Cougars totaled just five hits, but that was enough as Jake Ornellas was dealing, tossing a complete-game, four-hit shutout. Cougars coach Ryan Dequin said things began to turn in the fourth inning, and he finally began to see the performance he was waiting for.
“It’s huge for these guys to continue to compete,” he said. “We went down early against St. Ignatius, but we came back and that built us up for this. We knew that even if we are up three, they can still come back and we can’t let that happen us. So we had to continue to compete. Our guys are just battling in every at-bat and it’s showing.”
Christopher only built on its momentum from there. During the sixth inning, a calm and cool catcher and cleanup hitter Zach Griffin stepped up to the plate, and after swinging and missing on the first few pitches, he connected on a deep ball, he laced a single. But that’s when the fun began.
Griffin used his legs and then some, eventually advancing to third base with two outs. With Santos at the plate, the Aptos pitcher threw a wild pitch that went to the back stop, allowing Griffin to score. Griffin reflected on the play, saying it was all about, “Getting one more run, putting as many runs up on the board. We knew Jake could get back out there in the last inning and get those three outs and we’re going to the championship.”
Which is exactly what Ornellas—a Cal Poly commit—did. Standing on the mound and staring down the Aptos batters, Ornellas gave them nothing good to swing at, and the best they could muster were three hapless fly outs. Then, in the seventh inning, the Cougars added two more, courtesy of Karson Mazotti and Travis Romero, and just like that the Cougars were into the CCS Championship game.
What made Ornellas’ performance all the more amazing was the fact he had been sidelined with an injury.
“This is the first game I’ve pitched in like three weeks,” he said. “I had to take a bunch of time off because I hurt my shoulder, so I didn’t know if I was going to throw one inning or five innings, I had no idea.”
It was probably Griffin who put it best when he said, “We got this far last year, so this year we wanted revenge in the semifinals. Last year things didn’t go how we wanted them, but this year we were sure we would get to that next level.”