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Division 2 is the highest up the Capistrano Valley Christian baseball program has competed in the CIF-Southern Section, and the Eagles showcased a bit of everything in their CIF-SS Division 2 playoff opener on Friday, May 5.
Capistrano Valley Christian got a strong six innings on the mound by Michigan State commit Hunter Long, diving plays in the outfield by Jake Beauchaine, self-created offense on the basepaths by Indiana commit Hayden Carlson and a five-run fifth inning to pull away from Temecula Valley, 7-1, in a first-round game at San Juan Sports Park.
Capistrano Valley Christian (21-10) will host No. 1 seed Aquinas (23-4) in the Division 2 second round on Tuesday, May 9. Aquinas beat Moorpark, 7-3, in the first round on Friday.
The Eagles are coming off their 13th straight league championship, and CVC has been so dominant in league play, it had to win the San Joaquin League in a new format this season.
While the rest of its league opponents played a full league schedule, CVC did not play a single league game until a year-end tournament, where the Eagles entered in the semifinals. In that league tournament, CVC beat Pacifica Christian of Orange County, 11-0, and Calvary Chapel of Downey, 22-0, to again prove its league dominance.
This left the Eagles to play a more varied schedule to prepare itself for Division 2 of the CIF-SS playoffs and the sort of challenges like they saw on Friday in the Temecula Valley starting pitcher and they’ll host on Tuesday in No. 1 Aquinas.
“We purposefully did a tough schedule, and we talked about playing our best baseball going into May,” CVC coach Clemente Bonilla said. “I feel like every month we got better.”
Capistrano Valley Christian was held at bay early by the curveballs and off-speed pitching of Temecula Valley left-hander Adler Cecil. The Eagles didn’t record a hit until the fourth inning.
Carlson led off with a single and following a single from Anders Nilsson, Carlson reached third on the hit-and-run with no outs. CVC looked to pull off the double-steal, and while Nilsson was caught, Carlson slid home for the opening run.
“He’s a Hoosier in about three weeks or four weeks, and we know why he’s going there,” Bonilla said of Carlson. “They’re lucky to get a guy like that. He’s a superb athlete and an even better guy. He’s such a great teammate.”
With the game running tight through the first four innings, the Eagles relied on their top arm, and Long delivered with five shutout innings before CVC could break open the game.
“That’s probably the most important part of the game,” Long said. “If it’s 0-0, 1-1, tie ballgame, I have to go out there and put up zeroes. Now that it’s the playoffs, stats don’t matter. Every inning needs to be a zero.”
Long was also backed up by a stellar defensive day for Capistrano Valley Christian. Beauchaine made a diving catch in right field in the fourth inning, which was immediately followed by catcher JP Synnott throwing out a runner at second base to end the inning.
In the fifth inning, CVC grabbed full control of the game. Following Braden Butler’s hit-by-pitch and a walk by Lenox Bray, Beauchaine singled home Butler, and after another hit batter on Logan Kelly, Nilsson doubled home Bray and Beauchaine. Jack Gallo immediately followed up with a two-run single to send home Kelly and Nilsson.
“They do a lot of talking to each other,” Bonilla said. “We talk a lot about studying, searching, finding answers. They come in and they talk. I think they just picked up a tell when he was going to his offspeed. They were patient. He started to throw out of the zone, and we didn’t bite.”
This gave Long some breathing room to finish out his day in the sixth. Temecula Valley practiced its own patience in with a lead-off double and three walks to score the Golden Bears’ only run of the day. Long got out of the jam with a bases-loaded strikeout.
“He’s a battler,” Bonilla said of Long. “I think that was good for him to battle through some adversity this late. He did have such a successful season that I don’t even know if he had a bases-loaded situation this year. I think that will pay off for us in the next rounds.”
The Eagles scored once more in the sixth with a RBI double by Beauchaine to bring home Damien Quintana, and junior Andrew Johnson, a USC commit, closed it out for CVC in the seventh.
With its league dominance and a Division 2 playoff win under its belt, Capistrano Valley Christian isn’t going unnoticed as a baseball program growing in prominence. The Eagles have four NCAA Division 1 commits on the roster in seniors Long (Michigan State), Carlson (Indiana) Adrian Blanchet (USC) and Johnson (USC). There are another three Division 2 commits with Kelly (Colorado State-Pueblo), Tommy Woods (Occidental College) and Kai Martinez (Chaminade-Honolulu).
Not bad for a school with 270 high school students.
“I hope this continues to build more momentum,” Bonilla said. “I feel like we’re a diamond in the rough, a little secret gem, but maybe we’re not going to be secretive anymore. I truly hope we get a shot at Division 1 next year. Whether we’re ready for it or not, I think the boys want the challenge.”
Capistrano Valley Christian faces its next challenge against Division 2 No. 1 seed Aquinas on Tuesday.