The 2020-21 interscholastic season finally wrapped up June 26 with a Southern California regional championship for the Granite Hills High School baseball team.
The top-seeded Eagles, the newly crowned Division I section champion, employed a late rally to defeat second-seeded Riverside Arlington, 6-5, to capture the Division III regional title and place an exclamation mark to the season.
The end of the season couldn’t have come sooner for many involved.
“It’s late in the year,” expressed 20-year veteran Granite Hills head coach James Davis. “It’s been a long season. With the section and regional playoffs, we played 38 games. But it was fun. It’s always fun when you win.”
The come-from-behind win allowed the Eagles (28-10) to tie a school record with their 28 wins.
“We’re a power-hitting team,” Davis said. “I knew they were short on pitching. We had to stay disciplined. I knew that if we could stay close that we had a chance.”
That’s exactly what happened.
Sophomore Andrew Rudd started on the mound for the Lions. He pitched the opening three frames and generally kept the Eagles off balance while getting the big outs when he needed them.
The game was scoreless through the opening two frames as Granite Hills senior Noa Ponciano retired the first six batters he faced.
However, Arlington junior Ryan Cole cleared the right field fence with one out in the top of the third inning for a two-run home run to open scoring in the game. The Lions would push across two more runs before the inning was over to take a 4-0 lead.
Arlington (23-13) tacked on another run in the top of the fourth inning on a two-out RBI single by sophomore Kael Corridan.
Granite Hills got one run back in the bottom of the fourth inning on a solo home run by junior Tanner Vielguth.
As it turned out, the Lions’ relief corps was unable to protect a 5-0 lead.
Ponciano settled down and allowed just one hit in the fifth and sixth innings.
The Eagles needed just one more inning to complete their somewhat improbable comeback.
Trailing 5-1 entering the bottom of the sixth inning, the hosts sent nine men to the plate while scoring six runs with two out.
Sophomore Camden Sos started the rally with a one-out basehit. Vielguth, the next batter, struck out but junior Cody Macias followed with a double to place runners at first and second bases with two out.
The bases were soon loaded when junior Alex Gibaud was hit by a pitch.
Senior Joe Alegre took over on the mound for the Riverside team at this point. His duty on the mound was short-lived.
Alegre hit the first batter he faced, junior James Taylor, to bring in one run to narrow the Granite Hills deficit to 5-2.
The bases remained loaded for senior Austin Smith, who promptly smashed a two-run double to narrow the score further to 5-4.
“I got hold of a change-up,” Smith said. “I put it in the right spot.”
Runners remained in scoring position for the next Eagle at the plate, junior Spencer Davis, who promptly singled to score two more runners.
6-5 Granite Hills.
Smith relieved Ponciano to pitch the top of the seventh inning and the lefty delivered just what was needed: three outs.
“Coach Davis told me I was going in the seventh inning no matter what,” said Smith, who is headed to play collegiate baseball at UC San Diego. “I knew I had to get three outs.”
“I can’t say that I’ve gotten a bigger hit,” Davis said of his game-winning single.
“It’s crazy playing high school baseball in almost July. We’re done … done.”
Ponciano (six strikeouts) received credit for the win to improve to 9-4 on the season.
Granite Hills finished postseason play 8-1 — 5-1 in the section finals and 3-0 in regional competition.
The Eagles faced elimination three times in the section playoffs before preserving to advance to the championship game and then overcoming an early 2-0 deficit in the Division I final before prevailing 3-2 against Point Loma.
Granite Hills finished its championship season with a seven-game winning streak.
“We had some rocky games but over the course of the season we came together as a team and believed in each other,” said Smith, who earned the save in last Saturday’s regional final. “That’s why we’re Division I and SoCal champions.”