RIVERSIDE — Some schools wait years to win their first Southern Section championship. Hesperia Oak Hills needed just two.
The Bulldogs, in just their second season fielding varsity sports, held on to defeat Lompoc, 4-3, in the Division 5 baseball final Saturday night at UC Riverside.
The milestone victory certainly didn’t come easy.
Oak Hills (25-3) took a 4-0 lead into the final inning behind senior right-hander Adolfo Espinoza, who had retired the previous seven batters. But a lead-off double by Evan Aguilar seemed to rattle Espinoza, as he hit the next batter with the first pitch and then allowed a one-out triple to Joe Valla to cut the lead in half.
He then walked the next two batters to load the bases.
“I got a little too excited and had to throw strikes,” Espinoza said. “It wasn’t there.”
After a visit from Oak Hills coach Jason Story, shorstop Steven Pico hit a sacrifice fly to right to cut the deficit to 4-3. With the tying run on third base, Espinoza then faced off against clean-up hitter Daniel Mallory and got the senior catcher to chase a low off-speed pitch for strike three, setting off the school’s first-ever championship celebration.
“We’ve been through that situation throughout the year and I was just thinking, 'Get this last guy and we’re champions,' " Espinoza sad. “It’s great because there’s a little curse on Oak Hills, everyone was losing in the championships and we finally took the championship.”
For the Braves, they’ll likely look back at the five errors they committed, which led to two unearned runs. Twice, first baseman David Barber dropped on-target throws to lead off innings and both times the Bulldogs capitalized. Lompoc starting pitcher Ryan Bower also committed two costly throwing errors after fielding bunts.
“You could see [Bower] was falling off toward the first-base side pretty drastically,” Story said. “We’ve got really good bunters, so our bunters that we have came up in the right situations and they executed. We knew coming in that we were going to have to execute to win and that’s what ended up winning the game for us.”
Lompoc, seeking its fifth title in program history but first since 1993, got off to a rough start when Barber dropped a routine throw from Valla to open the bottom of the first. Kyle Callahan then singled to center and the Braves had a chance to force out Logan Griffin at second, but Aguilar bobbled the ball in the outfield.
Espinoza then laid down a bunt and Bower overthrew first base, allowing Griffin to score from second. Bower, who earned the victory in the previous four playoff games for Lompoc, avoided further damage by striking out the final two batters of the inning.
The Bulldogs took advantage of two more errors in the third to score a second run. After a lead-off walk to Callahan, Bower fielded another bunt from Espinoza and threw the ball into center-field. Christian Fillingame then singled to left and Callahan scored when Aguilar again bobbled the ball. Bower again avoided further trouble by getting Robert Martinez to line into a double play and striking out the final batter for the third straight inning.
Barber led off the fifth by dropping another routine throw, this time from Bower. The Bulldogs then loaded the bases on a hit batter and a walk, and Fillingame followed with an RBI single. Martinez then hit a sacrifice fly to center to push the score to 4-0.
“We knew it was going to be a close game,” Story said. “Four runs we thought were going to be enough for Adolfo and it was.”