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CIF SO. CAL. DIV. I BASEBALL REGIONALS – La Mirada’s bid for two-out, two-strike seventh inning rally comes up short in regional finals

June 2, 2024

La Mirada High junior shortstop Aiden Aguayo is safe at third after a botched pickoff attempt in the top of the first inning against Orange Lutheran High last Saturday in the championship game of the CIF Southern California Division I Regionals. Aguayo had reached on an error and scored La Mirada’s second run of the inning. PHOTO BY JIM McCORMACK.

June 2, 2024

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on X

ORANGE-It would have been fitting for La Mirada High’s baseball team, once down by five runs, to pull off a seventh inning rally with two outs and three straight players facing a two-strike call. But with the tying at second base, junior center fielder Travis Friend struck out on three pitches and the Matadores dropped a tough 7-6 decision to Orange Lutheran High last Saturday evening at Hart Park in the championship game of the CIF Southern California Division I Regionals.

La Mirada, the Gateway League champions which was making its first trip to the regionals, now in its fourth year, concludes the season at 25-8. The 13 runs scored are the most for a Division I championship game and matches the combined total of the scores from the previous three championship games. Orange Lutheran also became the third Trinity League school to call itself Division I champions from Southern California with JSerra winning in 2021, Huntington Beach High claiming the 2022 title and Santa Margarita High capturing the last season’s top prize.

Just 48 hours prior, the Matadores trailed Huntington Beach 6-1 after the first inning, came back to take a 7-6 lead going to the bottom of the fourth, and eventually pulling off a 10-8 victory. Against the Lancers, the Matadores were down 5-2 after the first inning and 7-2 after two innings before scoring four runs in the last two frames.

“We can’t get into the habit of spotting guys runs,” said La Mirada head coach Jimmy Zurn. “We didn’t get some pitches that we wanted. I think more importantly other than the game is just what these guys showed in terms of just the ability to compete for 21 outs, and they took them to the ropes. Their dugout was starting to press the panic button over there. We’re a ‘that-flag-win-coming-down’ just a little bit from tying that game up.”

Zurn was talking about junior shortstop Aiden Aguayo’s at-bat in the top of the seventh. On a 0-2 count, he sent a fly ball deep that was inches away from clearing the left field fence. But instead, it went for a double and brought in junior first baseman Kevin Jeon.

In the sixth, Aguayo reached on an error, stole second and third and came home on another error. The seventh inning began with a single to right field from sophomore left fielder Noah Rodriguez and junior pinch hitter Jacob Celiz reaching on an infield single. He was replaced by freshman pinch runner Michael Burgueno and later with both runners moving up a base, Rodriguez made it 7-4 on a wild pitch. Now with two outs, Jeon fouled off two straight pitches after getting the count to 2-2 before reaching on an infield single with Burgueno scoring.

“Kevin leads our team in hits,” said Zurn. “Just his at-bat to extend the inning in the seventh was awesome. Kevin is a special talent and his week from top to bottom was good. Every time he’s up, we feel something good is going to happen. The same thing with Aguayo; he had a really good week. Aguayo hit that ball and I could hear [Orange Lutheran’s] dugout going, ‘oh no’. He hit it in the right spot where if it was going to leave Hart Park, that’s the spot, and it hit the wall. So, it wasn’t our day today when it comes to that kind of stuff.

La Mirada struck first with one out in the top of the first as Jeon tripled to the right field gap and came home when Aguayo reached on the first of four Orange Lutheran errors. Another error would send Aguayo to third where he would make it 2-0 on a groundout from Friend.

La Mirada high junior first baseman Kevin Jeon scores the first run of the championship game of the CIF Southern California Division I Regionals against Orange Lutheran High. Jeon, who went two for four against the Lancers, had tripled with one out and came home on an error. PHOTO BY JIM McCORMACK.


But the Lancers would have their way with freshman pitcher Luke Armijo in the bottom of the first, collecting three hits and a pair of walks. The big blow was a bases-clearing double from Finnegan Stewart, making it 4-2. He would tack on the fifth run following a sacrifice fly from Hamilton Friedberg.

In the next inning, Armijo walked Evan Wiley and was behind 2-0 to Wyatt Hanoian before Zurn replaced him with sophomore Kaden Corns, who threw two straight balls to Hanoian, then yielded an infield single to Derek Curiel to load the bases. Two straight sacrifice fly balls would make it 7-2.

Corns worked the final five innings, scattering three hits and allowing one run, keeping his team in the game. In the regionals, Corns pitched seven innings, giving up five hits and a pair of runs. Armijo entered the game pitching three innings, allowing three hits and one unearned run.

“I would go to Luke again if we had to do it all over again,” said Zurn. “That doesn’t happen very often with Luke.”

The trip to the finals was made possible because the Matadores refused to go away after falling behind big in the first inning against Huntington Beach. But Jeon’s grand slam in the fourth inning put the Matadores up 7-6 and his solo home run in the sixth made it 10-7 as La Mirada held on for a 10-8 victory.

La Mirada busted out the bats to the tune of 12 hits with Jeon going three for five, three runs scored and five runs batted in. Aguayo went three for four with a run scored and one RBI while sophomore catcher Justin Torres collected a pair of hits.

“That was a pretty good offensive performance,” said Zurn. “[Senior pitcher] Walker [Calvo], he’s our ace; he’s our guy. Obviously, he got hit around. We made a mistake in the first getting picked off. We botched a bunt on defense on the second batter. It’s very easy in a 6-1 game to just kind of, ‘let’s just ride the game out and get through it’. But they did it. It’s really a testament to the entire program; to our coaches, to our players, to our fans. Our fans were still in it the whole game.”

Zurn continued to say the largest comeback for a victory this season was a tribute to what they do in practice and that it literally comes down to heart.

For the three regional games, the top three in the batting lineup of junior third baseman Maverek Russell, Jeon and Aguayo went a combined 14 for 24 with 12 runs scored, 12 RBI, four doubles, four home runs, including the grand slam, and a triple. Sophomore left fielder Noah Rodriguez went five for 10 and Torres had three hits.

“I think it’s going to be hard to find a better 1-2-3 in your lineup than what we’ve got,” said Zurn. “It’s pretty impressive. They go, we go. Let’s call it what it is. That’s a typical high school team. If they’re doing what they’re capable of doing, we are a dangerous team that can beat anybody in the country.”

Not to be outdone was the performance put in from junior pitcher Jason Rodriguez. After replacing Calvo, who faced 10 batters, with two outs in the first inning, Rodriguez pitched four and a third innings, giving up two hits, one run and striking out five. It was his longest outing of the season.

“Jason has been itching for time,” said Zurn. “He’s in his second year on varsity; he’s got the potential to be really, really good for us and today, he was a fresh arm. Just him giving up one run in four innings gave us a chance to chip away.”

The 25 victories this season is one shy of the school record set in 2018 (26-4-1) and in 2019 (26-7) and the 33 games played ties the 2019 season. Had it not been for the invitation to the Southern California Regionals, La Mirada’s season would have ended on May 10 after its 9-4 loss to Orange Lutheran in the CIF-Southern Section Division 1 quarterfinals. Corona and Harvard-Westlake, the two finalists, opted out of the extra games, thus giving La Mirada and Orange Lutheran the invitation.

“From the system, the way it is…but at the same time, all those teams are a hit away from each other or an error away from each other,” said Zurn. “We beat Corona this year and like I said, that’s how good Division 1 baseball is in Southern California. There’s not a lot of difference between the top team to the…it’s pretty remarkable when you think of the talent that we’re sitting in.”