CHS baseball edges Upland to enter CIF playoffs
A true playoff atmosphere engulfed Ray Baker Memorial field in Upland, as the Wolfpack took on the Highlanders in a CIF-SS Division II play-in game. Both sets of fans were treated to an exciting game featuring base hits galore, 2 home runs, and opportune pitching. Claremont used a number of timely defensive plays to hold off Upland, 5-4, and advance to the first round of CIF playoffs.
The Upland Highlanders were running hot heading into Tuesday’s faceoff with Claremont. Having won their final 6 regular season games, during which 3 were shutouts, “U-High” squeaked into playoffs after a dismal start. Tied for 3rd place in the Baseline league with a 7-8 record, the Highlanders only qualified because of their superior overall record to Etiwanda. The Wolfpack had a much tougher conclusion to the regular season, going 2-2 in their last 4 and finishing in 3rd by one game.
Southpaw Tyler Witt took the mound for Claremont against big righty Jeff Kross. After a scoreless first inning, Upland took a 1-0 lead when third baseman Alex Reyes knocked in Robert Alderete. Coach Ranney praised his lefty after the game. “Tyler did a great job today. He worked himself out of trouble a couple of times and gave us a chance to win the game.”
Claremont responded in the top of the 3rd inning when Jeremy Giles walked, and then Josh Chua squared up a bunt. Upland failed to field the bunt correctly, allowing both runners to reach base. The always-reliable Nick Costello then singled in Giles. Center fielder Matt Rhinehart came up 2 batters later, and thumped a double all the way to the outfield wall to bring Chua around to score.
The lead was short-lived, however. Upland right fielder Cameron Rodriguez led off the inning with a base hit. With one out, catcher Tommy Pincin drove a fastball deep to left-center. The ball disappeared over the fence, and Pincin rounded the bases with his side now leading 3-2.
In the top of the 5th, Claremont retook the advantage. Chua led off the inning striking out, but was able to reach first base as the 3rd strike skipped past the Upland catcher. Shortstop Costello stepped up and cracked a double down the left field foul line for his 2nd RBI of the game, as Chua raced all the way home from first. The Pack got another run when Rhinehart grounded into a fielder’s choice, and Costello came home to score.
The bottom of the 5th inning yielded some controversy. With 2 runners on base and 2 out, Witt struck out Upland pinch hitter Anthony Muniz. Apparently the pitch touched the ground before Claremont’s Brandon Ziska caught it, and Muniz took off for first as the Pack started to trot off the diamond. The play was upheld, and with the bases loaded, Witt bore down and struck out Upland’s Reyes with a sweeping curve ball on the outside corner.
The next inning, Claremont added to their lead. With 2 outs, Giles stepped to the plate. The 2nd baseman connected perfectly with Kross’ 2nd pitch. The ball sailed 360 feet over the center field wall, and the Wolfpack lead was now 5-3. Upland came back with a run when first baseman Corbin Donham hit an RBI-double to center, but that would prove to be only a consolation. Chua then made a fantastic play with the bases loaded to end the inning. The 3rd baseman charged a high chopper, transferred seamlessly from glove to hand, and just beat the runner with the throw to first.
David Valdivia came in to relieve Witt in the bottom of the 7th. Valdivia worked pinch hitter Chaffey Sheppard from a 3-0 to a full count, and Sheppard lined out. Reyes made the 2nd out when he grounded out with another full count. Finally Valdivia induced an easy ground ball from Justin Beck to seal the 5-4 win.
Ranney speculated on the strengths of Claremont’s next opponent, Sea View League’s number one Aliso Niguel Wolverines set for Friday, May 17 at 3 p.m. “They are fundamentally sound and will mix it up with small ball. We will go with righty Andrew Bernstein on Friday on the mound. Andrew and Tyler are similar talent-wise and they give us a rotation that can take us deep into games. Our sticks came alive today; hopefully our guys keep hitting at the right times.”