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605 LEAGUE BASEBALL : Cerritos seniors come through against Oxford Academy as Dons clinch share of league title

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter


This is what the Cerritos High baseball team wanted when it was announced that the school was bolting from the Suburban League to form the new 605 League-a chance to compete and win a league championship. It’s been done eight other times at the school, but not since 1996.

Now, the program can call themselves league champions as senior pitcher Matthew Pinal pitched a gem, limiting Oxford Academy to three hits and giving up a first-inning run as the Dons edged the Patriots 2-1 this past Tuesday to clinch at least a share of the inaugural 605 league crown. Cerritos improved to 20-7 overall and 8-1 in the circuit while the Patriots dropped to 19-9, 8-1.

“It feels great,” said Cerritos first-year head coach Brooks Walling. “The kids deserved everything we did today. Credit to Oxford; they showed up and played their butts off. It feels really good man, it feels really good.”

“It feels great,” Pinal said. “But we’re not going to share. But it feels great, especially since it’s been so long, and it’s my first one here.”

It would only be fitting that these two teams would be in this position on the last week of the regular season as Oxford Academy entered the contest scoring a league-high 195 runs while giving up 71. Meanwhile, the Dons had scored 183 runs and allowed a league-low 70 runs. And if you came late to the game, you missed all the scoring.

With two outs in the top of the first, Anthony Salazar singled to right, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on a single from Jesus Gonzalez, who would be thrown out at second on the play. After that, Pinal allowed four runners to reach base and none of them got to second. He was ahead in the count 13 times and reached a 0-2 count eight times. Pinal would walk Luke Hogencamp to begin the top of the second inning, the only walk he issued, and would post half a dozen strikeouts.

“We had our guy on the mound and he does the same thing he’s done all year,” Walling said. “He’s dominating. Their guy was tricky. He was very deceiving for us. We’ve faced some decent pitching the last two [games] and this guy came in flipping curveballs in and out. He did a good job.”

In the bottom of the first inning, and with one out, senior right fielder Matthew Aguinaga singled to left on the first pitch he saw from Gonzalez. Two batters later, sophomore third baseman Nick Hill laced a first-pitch double to the centerfield wall. He would be thrown out at third as he tried to stretch the hit to a triple.

In the next inning, senior designated hitter Bernie DeLeon smacked a first-pitch home run over the left field fence, three feet inside the foul pole. The Dons would have an opportunity to add on later in the inning as freshman center fielder Owen Gott singled with one out and advanced to third on a sacrifice from junior first baseman Jayden Baerg and an infield single from junior second baseman Alex Manibusan. But Pinal grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the threat.

Aguinaga, the team’s leading hitter entering the contest, and DeLeon, fifth on the team in hitting, are both four-year varsity players while Pinal transferred from Cantwell Sacred Heart of Mary High following his freshman season. Pinal improved to 8-1 on the season and has gone the distance three times, all in league action.

“Aggy and Pinal have been there all year, offensively and defensively,” Walling said. “Bernie gets his first career home run and it couldn’t have come on a better day. It’s awesome.”

“Honestly, I thought our offense is a little better,” Pinal said. “We didn’t hit that well, but we’re going to come back on Thursday and put up a lot more.”

After the second inning, both pitchers were zoned in as if this was the CIF-Southern Section championship game. Pinal, who threw 77 pitches, retired the final seven batters on 22 pitches and got some defensive help in the top of the fourth inning when Gonzalez grounded into a double play after Salazar had led off with a base hit. Meanwhile, Gonzalez was backed up by Salazar and second baseman Brandon Imai, who combined to make four sliding stops to throw runners out. Gonzalez would retire 12 of the final 13 batters after the second inning and needed 54 pitches in six innings of work. After five innings, the game wasn’t even an hour old and it took 70 minutes to complete the contest.

“Oxford played the best game they could play,” Walling said. “They outperformed us defensively; I’ll tell you that. We didn’t play good defensively. We weren’t sound; we didn’t put it together, but that tells you the type of club we are. We can battle through [this] and win.”

“They made all the plays they were supposed to and then they made a little bit more,” Pinal said. “I’m pretty sure we’ll figure it out on Thursday. I’m pretty confident in our offense, especially once we get it all going.”

Since 2000, Cerritos had finished no better than fourth place and since 1998, the program has advanced to the playoffs twice (2016 and 2018). From 2002-2014, no Cerritos team had won more than nine games in any season and from 2009-2014, the program went 8-64 in Suburban League action. This will be the 13thtime in school history that Cerritos has advanced to the playoffs, winning the 4A title in 1989.

“It means everything,” Walling said of reaching 20 victories. “It’s something that people around this area has known Cerritos as the armpit. We’ve won 17, 18 games the last four or five years and for us to win our 20th[and] clinch at least a share of the title means everything.”

Both teams wrapped up the regular season on Apr. 25 with junior Evan Vazquez expected to toe the slab for the Dons. The playoff brackets will be released Monday morning and Cerritos will be hosting a Division 3 first round game most likely on Thursday.