For in-game updates, news and more for all the San Juan Capistrano high school sports programs, follow us on Twitter @SouthOCSports and on Instagram @South_OC_Sports, and sign up for weekly South OC Sports updates straight to your inbox.
In recent seasons, JSerra baseball has played its best in the biggest moments and with its back against the wall. Lions coach Brett Kay has said they’ve done that by leaning on their pitching and defense and taken advantage with opportunistic offense.
So, with JSerra locked up with rival Santa Margarita into extra innings of its third straight CIF-SS Division 1 Championship game, why would the defending champion Lions play the game any differently than before?
Supported by a combined two-hit, eight-inning shutout from senior pitchers Ben Reimers and Matt Champion, JSerra junior Dmitri Susidko stepped up at the bottom of the line-up to lace a single down the left field line, score senior pinch runner Jackson Summers from second base and defeat Santa Margarita, 1-0, in walk-off fashion at Blair Field in Long Beach on Friday, May 19.
“What an atmosphere tonight. What a ball game,” Kay said. “Last year, I think we said (Dominic Smaldino’s go-ahead, sixth-inning single over Notre Dame for the CIF-SS title) was the biggest in JSerra history. I think D (Susidko) gets that rank right now. I’m so proud of the boys. I’m so proud of the program. I’m proud of all my coaching staff. What a game. What a victory.”
This is the second CIF-SS championship in program history for JSerra, and in consecutive seasons, the Lions overcame early season adversity to storm to the Division 1 title.
In 2022, JSerra opened the season 6-9 overall and 1-6 in the Trinity League before a run of 17 wins in 18 games to earn the No. 2 seed in Division 1 and win the program’s first CIF-SS title.
This season, JSerra opened the season 3-5, including four straight losses to open their Trinity League schedule. The Lions turned another midseason corner to advance to the title game of the National High School Invitational, clinch a playoff spot on the final day of the regular season and post three playoff shutouts on their way to back-to-back CIF-SS championships.
“It’s an unreal feeling,” said Reimers, who apparently took a hit to the face during the postgame dogpile. “I’ve been with this core group of guys my entire life playing on the same team, playing against them my whole life. Last year, obviously, to get there and win one was special, but to be able get back a second time, solidify our legacy as a team is something I’ll never forget. I love this group so much.”
Reimers, a Stanford commit, and Champion, a Louisiana State commit, threw four innings each with both giving up just one hit. Reimers collected five strikeouts with three walks, and Champion racked up four strikeouts with one walk and two hit batters.
The pair needed to stay sharp on the mound, as Santa Margarita starter Collin Clarke pitched all 7 2/3 innings for the Eagles with eight strikeouts and three hits allowed. Clarke retired 18 consecutive JSerra batters between a two-out single in the first inning and a two-out hit batter in the seventh.
With one out in the eighth inning, Jordan Marian smacked a single into right field, and Summers was subbed in as the pinch runner at first base. Tyler Dunner laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to put Summers at second base, and with Clarke’s pitch count at the brink of 110 pitches, Susidko came in for what would be Clarke’s final JSerra hitter, one way or another.
Susidko had struck out in his first at-bat in the third inning, and Gavin Flores pinch hit in Susidko’s spot in the sixth inning. However, with the chance to clinch the title right there, Kay stuck with Susidko, and it paid off in spades.
“It shows our fight, our grit, our resiliency,” Kay said of his No. 9 hitter coming through. “D didn’t look good in his first at-bat, and I pinch hit for him in his second. I didn’t want to lose him defensively either. I wanted him to hit there, and D is a fighter, man.”
Susidko caught a hanging slider and lined to it out to left field, and with Summers racing down the third-base line towards home, the Lions spilled out of the dugout to celebrate the winning run crossing home plate for another CIF-SS championship.
“I was just filled with adrenaline,” Susidko said of his game-winning moment. “Like, ‘Wow, I think we won it.’”
Friday’s CIF-SS Final was the final game of the season for JSerra, as the Lions declined their invitation to the CIF State Regional playoffs. JSerra won the SoCal Regional title after being CIF-SS runner-up in 2021, and the Lions were SoCal Regional runner-up after winning the CIF-SS title last season.
Discussion about this post