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605 LEAGUE BASEBALL – Cerritos recovers from slow start, rallies to capture fifth straight league title

Cerritos high school logo, don

April 24, 2024

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on X

CYPRESS-Cerritos High did not want a repeat of what occurred six days shy of the one-year anniversary of an unfortunate loss. It was on Apr. 25 of last season that the Dons lost to Oxford Academy 6-4, snapping a string of 34 straight league wins, including the first 32 of 605 League action.

After defeating the Patriots 7-2 on Apr. 16 in the front end of a pivotal home and home series, a win last Friday on the same field of last season’s loss would have clinched a share of at least a tie for another league crown. Mission accomplished for the fifth consecutive season as the Dons survived a sloppy affair by the two best teams in the circuit and gave first-year head coach Matt Joyce a 14-4 victory. Coupled with a 22-1 pummeling over Pioneer High this past Tuesday, Cerritos is now 19-5 overall, winners of all nine league games and another outright league crown.

“The one thing that stood out to me when I got this job is somebody told me how last year, they lost their first game in league, I think in the last four or five years since the existence of the 605 League,” said Joyce. “I really, really did not want to lose a league game this year. I told the boys we had three major goals. Get to playoffs, win league and [get a] playoff win. We’re two out of three.

“I’m really excited where we’re at, where we’re going, our momentum and everything,” he continued. “I’m really happy; I’m proud of them. They deserve it.”

Cerritos, the 10th-ranked team in the CIF-Southern Section Division 4 poll, opened the scoring in the top of the first inning when sophomore second baseman Justin Sagun reached on the first of six errors and came home when senior third baseman Carter Chi singled to right field. In the next inning, Carter Senglaub, which would be a recurring theme, hit senior designated hitter Elijah Pannell, then fielded a bunt from senior catcher Jonathan Masella. But his throw to get Pannell out at second was late and after a sacrifice bunt from senior left fielder Noah Gapuz, a base hit to left from junior right fielder Braxton Reed made it 2-0.

The Patriots would take the lead in their half of the second without the benefit of a hit. Junior pitcher Christian Wright hit three batters, walked two with another reaching on an error. He would not get out of the inning after throwing 27 pitches in the inning.

“Christian has been great all year and he came out and it just wasn’t his day,” said Joyce. “That’s the thing about a team, is we got to be able to step up in those situations. We went with [senior] Jack Lake and then [senior Johan] Gibbs, who I haven’t pitched in a while because he’s been having issues with command. I brought him in there and he did a great job.”

The pitching change paid off as Lake faced four batters, threw 14 pitches and struck out one while Gibbs worked the final four frames, fanning nine batters and walking three while giving up Oxford Academy’s only hit of the game. That would be a leadoff single to Elijah Spessert to begin the fifth.

While Gibbs and Lake were keeping the Patriots at bay, the Dons regained the lead in the top of the fourth on the strength of two more errors, a walk, and a sacrifice bunt. But the big blow came in the fifth when Cerritos sent a dozen to the plate, scored eight runs and collected four hits. Gapuz had a one-out, two-run double to the right field gap and junior shortstop Dalton Chi later had a two-out, bases-clearing double to right field. Cerritos would get just eight hits in the game with Gapuz, Gibbs and Reed all collecting two hits.

“Every pitcher we saw today, we saw on Tuesday,” said Joyce. “That’s a problem, for them. And we have computers; we can hit. I don’t know, if you look at our [schedule], how many times we’ve scored over 10 runs. If we get opportunities like that where we’re seeing a guy a second or third time, watch out, we’re going to hit.

“When we get down early in a game, I honestly do not get worried because I know we’re going to break one open,” he continued. “We hit that way, our offense is deep, and we have a ton of speed. Speed kills.”

Cerritos and Oxford Academy have clearly been the cream of the crop since the league was formed prior to the 2019 season. The Patriots have finished no worse than second place and the teams have faced each other on the last week of the regular season three times. Before the 605 League, both teams had been in the middle of the pack in the Suburban League and Academy League, respectively, for the three to four years before moving to the new league.

“Honestly, they might have two of the best coaches in the league,” said Joyce. “Those guys know the game. They played the game at a high level, and they got their boys coached up. Like I told you earlier, and I know I probably rubbed some people the wrong way, we’re far more talented than every team in this league talent-wise. But [Oxford Academy] is coached up and they’re really good.”

After hosting Pioneer on Apr. 25, the Dons will finish the regular season the same way they began it on Feb. 10 by going to Valley Christian High. In the season opener, Cerritos blanked the Defenders 7-0 as they scored twice in the bottom of the fifth and three times in the next inning as Gibbs picked up the win.

“We’re not going to change much,” said Joyce. “I will probably try to get some guys in that have worked real hard for me throughout the year. But we’re going to run out with our starting nine, put up some runs and then I’m going to work to get some guys in. With [Pioneer], I’m not going to let up.”