By Nikash Nath
For The Signal
While it might have been Brayden Jefferis’ first CIF playoff game, you would have never known it from his clutch performance at the plate.
With two outs and a runner on third in the bottom of the fifth, the freshman’s moonshot 2-run homer helped secure the Indians’ lead and a 5-2 second-round win at home Tuesday against Cerritos High.
“The kid is very talented,” Hart head coach Jim Ozella said of the freshman, who started the season on JV but has now hit several homers for the varsity squad. “He’s known as more of a base-stealer but has been working hard on his hitting, and it’s been paying off.”
The Indians finished first in the Foothill League at 14-1, looking to take that momentum into this week’s CIF Southern Section Division III second-round matchup with the Cerritos Dons, who came into the playoffs with a seven-game win streak, and an 18-5 record. (Both teams had a bye in the first round.)
After a scoreless start to the first, the Indians wasted no time getting on the scoreboard in the bottom half of the inning, taking advantage of an error by Cerritos, which the team was ultimately able to turn into a 1-0 lead.
Hart got their bats going in the bottom of the third. After some small ball from the Indians, senior catcher Matt Quintanar, who’s Pepperdine-bound, delivered a two-run double to put Hart up 3-0.
Cerritos finally got on the scoreboard in the top of the fourth with an RBI single to make it 3-1. However, Cerritos would end up leaving the bases loaded to end the inning — a problem that would come back to haunt them.
After a scoreless sixth, Cerritos again had the bases loaded with two outs in the seventh, but would only manage one more run before Jefferis’ homer ultimately helped seal the win.
“(Starting pitcher) Jake Villar pitched real well, Cerritos hit well — they used all parts of the field, got ahead in lots of counts,” Ozella said. “As a team, we played good defense, (Villar) made key pitches in key moments. Cerritos is a league champion — you play good teams, they were very good — (we were) fortunate we got out of that,” Ozella said.
Hart will be advancing to the next round, playing host to Calabasas on Friday.
“Calabasas is a good team, they have already won two games during this tournament — we expect them to be good and we expect a challenge. Hopefully our guys can rise to the challenge,” Ozella added.
Hart will look to make it seven straight wins and two straight playoff wins Friday at Calabasas for a quarterfinal matchup.