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CIF-SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA DIVISION I BASEBALL REGIONALS Aguayo, Torres go deep in La Mirada’s historic victory in America’s Finest City

May 30, 2024

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on X

SAN DIEGO-The California Interscholastic Federation has been holding regional playoffs in baseball since 2021 but one of the stronger programs in Southern California, La Mirada High, had never been a part of it until now. And, what a perfect time it was for the Matadores to end a two and a half week absence from the diamond.

Junior shortstop Aiden Aguayo and sophomore left fielder Noah Rodriguez each hit home runs over the left field fence and a trio of pitchers combined to allow seven hits as the Matadores doubled up Torrey Pines High 4-2 this past Tuesday in the first round of the Southern California Division I Regionals. La Mirada moved on to visit Huntington Beach High in a regional semifinal game with the finals on Saturday.

Rodriguez, who entered the game with six hits, but just one in the month of May, went three for three and scored twice. With one out in the top of the third inning, he beat out an infield single with a high chopper to the shortstop for La Mirada’s first baserunner. Two pitches later, Torres gave the Matadores (24-7) a 2-0 lead.

“My approach was just to get on base by any means, help the team and that’s what I did,” said Rodriguez. “My goal always is to stay opposite way because that’s what I’ve been working on.”

Of the seven hits the Matadores got, four were from Rodriguez and Torres, the bottom two batters in the starting lineup while the other three came from the top three in the lineup, all juniors. Third baseman Maverek Russell singled on the next pitch following the home run and two pitches later, first baseman Kevin Jeon also singled to left field.

The Falcons, who defeated Rancho Bernardo High 7-1 in the CIF-San Diego Section Open Division championship, entered the game as the second seeded team in the regionals and the top team according to the San Diego Union-Tribune’s weekly top 10 poll. They got on the board in the fourth when Jack Swanberg singled on an 0-2 count from senior Sebastian DeAvila and came home two batters later on a sacrifice fly from Chase Klemke.

Torrey Pines hurler Peyton Rodgers had retired five straight after Jeon’s home run before Rodriguez led off the fifth with another infield single. He moved to second on a wild pitch, to third on a ground out from Torres and scored when Russell reached on a fielder’s choice, making it 3-1.

“Two sophomores, which is good for us,” said La Mirada head coach Jimmy Zurn of the bottom of his lineup. “We didn’t know what to expect, and we’re still going in like…we’re in bonus time right now, and actually we’re kind of using this as a springboard into our summer and next season. We had three seniors who decided to play, [right fielder] Tyler [Primanto] and Sebastian. But the bottom of the order was really good. Again, we haven’t seen live pitching in two weeks.”

Torrey Pines inched closer in the bottom of the fifth when Rodgers led off with a double off the left field wall, moved to third on an error and scored on a sacrifice fly from Thomas Maher. The inning could have gotten away from the seventh-seeded Matadores as a second error and a fielder’s choice sent Reece Dixon to third with one out. But sophomore Kaden Corns got Aiden Stroot to hit into a fielder’s choice for the second out and induced a pop-up from Klemke.

La Mirada iced the game in the sixth with Aguayo’s home run on a full count, but the Falcons made things interesting in the seventh. With freshman Luke Armijo summoned to get the save, Dixon and Maher each singled with one out, the latter close to being a two-run home run. After Rex Kanig was safe on an error, Stroot grounded into a double play to end the game. It was the second straight inning-ending double play as the Falcons stranded nine runners on base, three of them at third base. Armijo, Corns and DeAvila combined to throw 104 pitches, strike out a pair and walk three.

“Pitching for sure kept us in the game,” said Rodriguez. “They were very dominant on the mound.”

“If you were going to tell me Se-Bas was going to go four innings today, I would have not believed it,” said Zurn. “And that’s not any disrespect to him. It’s just we were in an inning by inning [situation] for everybody today. Again, we were off for 10 days [and] to try to get these guys ramped back up is…we’re not asking anybody to [pitch a complete game] or anything like that. Corns gave us two and Luke actually threw a pretty good inning.”

Ls Mirada last played on May 10 in the CIF-Southern Section Division 1 quarterfinals, a 9-4 loss to Orange Lutheran High. But when division champion Corona High and runner-up Harvard-Westlake High opted out of the regionals, it left the door open for the highest ranked quarterfinalists, which were La Mirada and fifth-seeded Santa Margarita High.

Zurn said he got the invitation from the CIF on the morning of May 20 and notified the team at lunchtime. Orange Lutheran, the top-seeded team in the regionals, hosted Santa Margarita in the other semifinal. A La Mirada victory over third-seeded Huntington Beach will keep the Matadores on the road for Saturday’s championship game.

The Matadores lost to Huntington Beach 6-0 last Apr. 11 and lost to Santa Margarita 2-1 in this season’s opener. Entering the Division 1 playoffs, Orange Lutheran was ranked third, Santa Margarita fourth, Huntington Beach fifth and La Mirada sixth.

“Honestly, there was a lot of thought behind it,” said Zurn. “As a coaching staff, we left it up to the players. If we felt we could go out and be competitive, and there was enough that wanted to [play], then we’re going to do it. Obviously now, it’s 100 percent worth it.

“I don’t judge anybody for opting in or opting out,” he continued. “That’s just the way the system is, and you have to play it. But that’s school history that we just did, not only making it in, but now winning a game. I couldn’t be happier for them.”

“It’s a great feeling,” said Rodriguez. “I get to be with the seniors; some of my best friends. It just feels good to play with them another time. I’m glad we got the opportunity.”