The La Cañada High School varsity baseball team’s hopes of adding another accolade to its historic season were crushed by No. 4-seeded Temecula Great Oak.
The Spartans were denied their first CIF Southern Section championship as Great Oak scored seven runs in one inning and claimed the Division 3 title with a 7-0 victory at Dodger Stadium last Saturday.
The Wolfpack (23-9-1 overall record) broke through in the top of the fourth inning with seven runs against LCHS ace Ryan Graves. An error, a balk and timely hitting snowballed into an offensive barrage from Great Oak.
“It was one ugly inning, one thing after another,” said LCHS head coach Matt Whisenant. “They did a great job and capitalized on what we were struggling with today.”
The Spartans (22-8 overall) struggled to contain Great Oak’s speed. Four different players bunted in the seven-run inning, and La Cañada infielders labored to get runners out.
Graves was tagged with seven runs (five earned) on seven hits in 3 2/3 innings. Connor Buchanan pitched 3 1/3 of relief and allowed only two hits and struck out two.
One of the biggest hits of the game came from Great Oak pitcher Cameron Mabee, who helped his own cause by singling in Luke Jepsen and Zach Arnold, giving his team a 6-0 lead.
“They get got guys in scoring position, and they did what they’ve been doing all year, which is just moving guys over and causing havoc,” Whisenant said. “We had a hard time with it today.”
Mabee was dominant on the mound, surrendering only one hit, walking one and striking out eight in seven innings.
The only trouble the Great Oak ace encountered came in the bottom of the sixth when Zach Feehan singled and Ian Tinkham walked to put runners on first and second with two outs. Mabee got out of the jam by striking out Buchanan.
“We knew what he was going to come after us with, but I think even though you know he’s going to bring it with his fastball, he did an incredible job as far as locating,” Whisenant said of Mabee. “He was really good. He was tough.”
Whisenant credits his senior group for La Cañada’s memorable season. The Spartans had never played in a CIF-SS championship game in the school’s 56-year history. Kyle Osornia, Tai Walton, Buchanan, Graves and Feehan will be graduating.
“I thank them for sure because they did such a phenomenal job and helped put this program on the map,” Whisenant said. “I also let them know that they have such an incredible future. … I can’t say enough about those kids. They’ve been phenomenal.”
The LCHS head coach is hopeful the underclassmen will carry the torch and continue setting the same standard that was set by this year’s leadership.
“I just let them know to not let today define you,” Whisenant said. “Today was tough, but this entire year, they did an incredible job. We’ve been doing this since August. I couldn’t be prouder of the kids. … After the game, I made sure the kids understood to acknowledge the seniors graduating. This is the standard we expect from here on out.”