West Ranch baseball loses to Yucaipa, protests game

West Ranch's Cade Nicol (6) pitches against Yucaipa at West Ranch on Tuesday. Dan Watson/ The Signal

West Ranch baseball is in kind of a weird spot. Yes, they lost 1-0 to Yucaipa in the second round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 1 playoffs. But at the same time, the season might not be over just yet.

The Wildcats (24-6) are protesting the game, citing that the Thunderbirds were practicing in an illegal way before Tuesday’s game, soft tossing in a way that is against CIF-SS rules. They’ve submitted video evidence to the CIF-SS and if Yucaipa (26-5) is found guilty, they will forfeit the win.

“I walked out here and the rules are pretty clear on how you can soft toss before a game, they even draw diagrams for you and honestly as long as I’ve been a baseball coach, this has been an issue every single year,” said West Ranch coach Casey Burrill. “You can only come at a hitter from the side, you couldn’t come at from an angle and we thought they were doing that.”

According to Blue Book Rule 1524.2, “Teams entered in the baseball playoffs will not be permitted to take batting practice on the day of a playoff game prior to the commencement of the contest.” Batting practice will be construed as ANY type of pitching motion with ANY type of ball from in front of the batter (including pitching machines and overhand throwing).

“With the consultation and support of the C.I.F. Southern Section Baseball Coaches Advisory Committee, the rules are as follows… THE ONLY ACCEPTABLE BATTING WARMUP WILL BE SIDE SOFT TOSS, BATTING TEE WORK OR PEPPER.”

West Ranch’s Nikko Clarke (15) runs down and makes the tag on Yucaipa baserunner Julian Alvarez (1) in the sixth inning at West Ranch on Tuesday. Dan Watson/ The Signal

So unless told otherwise, the West Ranch baseball team will arrive for practice tomorrow as usual. They did the usual field maintenance after the game and everything.

“It’s a little weird, I think we all kind of feel it that we don’t know how to feel exactly,” said pitcher Cade Nicol. “We don’t think it’s the end for us and it could be the other way around, it could very well be the end. So it’s a weird spot right now to be in.”

One thing is for certain: Nicol pitched a gem of a game. Burrill called it arguably the best playoff pitching performance in West Ranch program history.

Across seven innings, Nicol, who got the starting nod on Thursday, recorded four strikeouts while only allowing two hits.

“I don’t think he gave those hitters a chance to kind of extend and when it looked like they were sitting on some fastballs, he dropped the curveball in for a strike,” Burrill said.

“He was able to take a couple pitches and command location on those and typical Cade fashion, he’s a pretty quiet, even-keeled kid and you couldn’t really tell if he just gave up a home run or he struck someone out.”

The Thunderbirds were unable to score until the seventh inning. Tyson Heaton was waked to get on base, then Trent Luther singled two at-bats later. Anthony Gibbons singled to load the bases, then Yucaipa scored on a fielder’s choice to second.

The West Ranch baseball team gather near the scoreboard after the game against Yucaipa at West Ranch on Tuesday. Dan Watson/ The Signal

West Ranch was hitting the ball, and hard, but couldn’t muster any runs. Ryan Ilan was able to get to third in the fifth inning, but no one could drive him in. Garrett Monheim got caught in a pickle between first and second in the sixth inning and was tagged out, prompting a verbal exchange between Monheim and Thunderbirds pitcher Julian Alvarez, but the scrum never escalated.

Alvarez, a San Jose State commit, gave up two hits while striking out two batters in seven innings of work.

“He was crafty. He hit his spots well, he came into hitters and went away from hitters,” Monheim said of Alvarez. “He was good, he spotted the ball well and put it in places where it was hard for us to get hits.”

If the Wildcats win the protest, which should be decided by Wednesday morning, they’ll play Cypress in the quarterfinals on Friday.

But if the season ends, West Ranch is able to take pride in the year it had, which included a second-place finish in the Foothill League and a National Classic High School Baseball Tournament win.

“We just talked about how successful we were this season and how proud of ourselves we were,” Monheim said of his team’s postgame talk. “We went out and fought every day and this game could have gone either way, they just happened to pull it off in the end and we’re really proud of ourselves for this whole season that we put together and the accomplishments we had.”

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