It didn’t start particularly well for Highland baseball on Thursday night.
Regardless, as far as the Scots were concerned it ended beautifully with a 12-5 victory over Ridgeview in the Central Section Division III quarterfinals.
After falling behind 3-0 on No. 4 Ridgeview’s homefield, the No. 5-seeded Scots used two five-run rallies to take control of the contest. They’ll advance to play at No. 1 Garces on Tuesday.
The defending section D-III champs displayed a scrappiness and self-belief that’s been their trademark the past two years. Highland is now 21-7-2 on the season, while Ridgeview finished its 2018 campaign with a 20-8-1 mark.
“The boys do play with a lot of confidence,” Scots coach Mike Garza said. “I think, honestly, what helped was a lot that were on this squad last year in the valley championship, they felt that nervousness and the butterflies. That was the biggest game that a lot of these boys have ever played in. I told them, ‘hey, that’s our goal to get there again.’”
Ridgeview rattled Highland ace Cade Sakamoto with four consecutive hits to start Thursday’s game, jumping out to a quick lead.
The Scots wasted little time getting back into things, however, plating five runs of their own in the top of the third inning.
Three walks and a hit batter were drawn during the rally, which culminated on three two-out RBI hits from Griffen Scarry, Niko Joven and Chico Cooper.
“Good teams always find a way,” Cooper pointed out. “We get down 3-0, obviously, and our dugout, everyone, we just didn’t give up. We were all in the game the whole time. And just I felt like that brought us to get those hits.”
After squandering a bases loaded, no out opportunity in the fourth, the Scots struck again in the fifth. Highlights included a three-run home run off the left-handed bat of Sakamoto, and sophomore power hitter Xabi Iparraguirre rumbling all the way around from first base to score on a hit to the outfield that rolled all the way to the wall following a Ridgeview fielding error.
Standing at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, Iparraguirre will never be mistaken for a speed demon, although he beat the throw to the plate with a head-first slide.
“When I saw coach give me the green light, I pretty much put it in the highest gear I had,” Iparraguirre said with a smile.
Said Garza of Sakamoto’s homer: “He really got ahold of that ball. I wouldn’t be surprised if it landed on first base back at Highland. It got oughta here quick.”
Ridgeview had some tough luck before the game, when starting pitcher Jacob Perez took a ball to the head during Wednesday’s practice and was out due to concussion protocol.
The Wolf Pack turned to Benjamin Caggianelli, who’s typically the team’s closer. While Caggianelli displayed a live arm early on, he ran out of steam in the third inning. The Scots were able to get into Ridgeview’s bullpen, as the Wolf Pack went through five pitchers on the evening.
“It made our whole lineup different, it changed everything around,” said Ridgeview assistant coach Armando Ponce. “Jacob being our three hitter and our starting pitcher. It just made adjustments we weren’t expecting, 24 hours before the game.”
Matthew Miranda held things down out of the Highland bullpen, throwing five innings of relief to secure the victory.