By Grant Gordon
For The Signal
LANCASTER – Two games and 19 innings into the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 playoffs, the Saugus baseball team is still standing.
Unable to come up with a key bunt or a clutch hit across the first 10 innings against top-seeded Paraclete, the Centurions were finally able to put a pair of big hits together in the top of the 11th.
Following a one-out double by senior Brandyn Cruz, Hayden Trowbridge came up to the plate after going hitless in his first four at-bats. This time, Trowbridge delivered with a single to left field to score Cruz for the game-winning run as the Centurions downed the No. 1 Spirits, 2-1, in 12 innings in the first round of the playoffs on a warm and breezy Thursday afternoon at Paraclete.
“It was something incredible,” said Trowbridge of the triumph, which puts the Centurions into the second round for the first time since 2015. “I’m just so happy to be a part of this team.”
Consequently, Cruz and Trowbridge were on base and scored when Anthony Ramirez hit a three-run, walk-off home run to lift Saugus to a 3-2 win in eight innings over Downey in Tuesday’s wild-card round.
However, the Centurions had to survive for three more outs against Paraclete to move on this time.
Senior reliever Cole Gallagher, who was a standout quarterback on the football team, walked the leadoff man in the 11th, but got a strikeout looking before inducing a 6-3 double play to give the Centurions reason to celebrate for the second time in three days.
“It feels great,” Cruz said. “Two really hard-fought games, both in extra innings that we were fortunate to come out on top. It just goes to show it’s never over.”
Saugus (16-11-1), which is also in the postseason for the first time since 2015, won its seventh game in a row to move into Tuesday’s second round where it will travel to face Gardena Serra, which beat Montebello, 9-3, in the first round. Advancement came at the expense of Paraclete (21-8), which shared the Gold Coast League title, but came up short against the Foothill League third-place finisher.
“It’s a huge game. … This is new for everybody, so we’re just going at it,” said Cents coach Carl Grissom, whose team wasn’t intimidated going against a top seed after emerging from a league that features Division I squads Valencia and West Ranch. “We play in the Foothill League. We’re battling every game.”
Ramirez stayed hot in the playoffs with a pair of doubles and Ruiz also had two two-baggers as Saugus had nine hits with five doubles. Hewitt Grissom also tallied a pair of singles.
Paraclete threw ace Joey Estes, who was impressive though Saugus got to him early. He threw 7 1/3 innings and 115 pitches, striking out seven, allowing six hits, walking two and giving up one run (unearned).
He was matched by Saugus starter Tony Jacob, who also tossed 7 1/3 innings on 101 pitches with eight strikeouts, three walks, six hits and one run, just like Estes’ unearned.
“Our guy is just as good,” coach Grissom said. “Not taking anything away from their guy, he was good and he made us work, but our guy was just as good.”
Cruz came on in the bottom of the eighth with two runners on and one out. He issued an intentional pass before inducing a bunt out and notching a strikeout.
“The adrenaline was really pumping, but this is what you live for,” Cruz said. “I was able to challenge their dudes and we came out on top.”
Jacob started out shoving, retiring the first five batters with four strikeouts, but was then grinding for most of the rest of his outing.
Paraclete took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third when Bryce Wygant hit a one-out single to centerfield. Wygant, in the first of myriad Paraclete baserunning gaffes, was picked off at first, but the Centurions made two errors on the play and Wygant took three bases to score.
Meanwhile, Saugus got to Estes with hits in each of the first three innings, including leadoff doubles in the second and third, but failed to get bunts down or runs across.
Instead, the Centurions matched the Spirits with an unearned run in the top of the fifth. After another leadoff double from Ramirez, courtesy runner Tyler Covey took third on an error at third base. Colton Fitzgerald put in play a grounder to second that ate up the second baseman and got through for a second error to score Covey and tie it at 1.
Jacob threw perfect fifth and sixth innings before allowing a one-out single in the seventh. That runner was picked off, though, and then a great play at second base and a good dig at first ended the inning.
Jacob was sent back out in the eighth and the Spirits were finally able to get past him, but Cruz quelled the bases-loaded threat.
“Even when it looked bleak, we didn’t give in,” coach Grissom said.
While Saugus got past Estes in the eighth, reliever Andrew Arciga retired the first nine batters he faced until Cruz’ double in the 11th. Trowbridge, who was actually thrown out going for second on his game-winning hit, then came up clutch and sent Saugus to the second round.
“We went out and worked hard every single day. It’s so validating,” Trowbridge said. “It’s truly amazing.”