By Justin Vigil-Zuniga
Signal Sports Writer
The season was on the line Friday as Castaic and Saugus baseball met for a third time to decide their playoff fates in a tie-breaker game.
Saugus first baseman Zach Plasschaert launched a solo home run in the bottom of the sixth inning to help his team win 3-2.
Plasschaert finished 2-2 with 2 RBI.
The Centurions (10-15, 6-7) have caught fire and won five in a row when they needed it most. The Coyotes (9-16, 5-8) saw their injury-plagued inaugural varsity season end as they dropped 13 of their last 15 games.
Connor Bates got the start for Saugus and gave it all. The senior allowed both earned Castaic runs but was impressive, allowing just three hits and fanning five over four innings pitched.
Kyler Fredue got the start for the Coyotes and left it all out there. Freude, one of the team’s better hitters, has been dealing with an injury. The junior experienced discomfort hitting but little pain pitching, getting him the ball for game three with Saugus.
Freude ended up with the loss but allowed only five hits while striking out eight Centurions in his five-inning gem.
“Kyler’s been one of our aces,” said Castaic head coach Darrell Davis. “He’s not overpowering but he knows how to hit his spots. He knows how to throw to guys. He has a great sense of the game.”
Plasschaert got the team started early with a two-out RBI double in the first inning. Senior Michael Durham matched his first baseman in the second inning with another two-out RBI double to get the 2-0 lead.
Castaic finally answered in the fourth as David Cailotto hit an RBI single before center fielder Matt Airhart hit a sacrifice fly to tie the game.
Fueled by the momentum, Freude went into the bottom of the fourth strong and registered an immaculate inning.
Saugus ace Carson Knapp then entered the game in the fifth and matched with his own 1-2-3 inning.
Knapp got into trouble in the sixth after getting into a two-on, one-out jam. Centurion shortstop Colin Yeaman then made a fantastic diving catch to keep both runners at bay before Knapp struck out his last batter to get out of the inning.
Freude fought for his team and had tallied a streak of eight straight batters retired. The streak reached everyone in the Saugus order except for one.
Plasschaert launched his homer into right field to lead off the sixth.
“This team’s special,” said Plasschaert. “It seemed like everyone gave up on us except for ourselves. The last part of the season we locked in and got to work.”
Freude was losing his grip and, after giving up the home run and six straight balls, his day was done.
Aaron Gonzalez entered in relief for Castaic and retired three straight, including a strikeout after he somehow got back into the 2-0 count at-bat Freude was pulled from against Bates.
Knapp started losing his grip on a fair share of balls with key chances to end the game. The senior saw two consecutive base runners get on with two outs.
However, Knapp knew he just needed one and managed to force a pop fly to send Saugus back into the playoffs.
“I just got to lock the door,” said Knapp. “I know my hitters are going to hit. So, I knew I just had to get in there and throw strikes and let the defense work.”
The teams met just a week ago and split their season series, with both teams losing at home.
The Coyotes won a tight game 7-6 on the road while the Centurions exploded at Castaic, winning 13-5.
Saugus was just a hair short of being eliminated from the playoffs, needing a longshot to even have a chance. The Centurions needed to win out while needing Castaic to lose out just to force a chance in the tie-breaker game.
The team never faltered and did their part, winning their last five games.
“When our backs are against the wall, we find a way to claw back into it,” said Saugus skipper Carl Grissom. “All the glory goes to them, they do all the work.
Saugus will now enter the postseason playing their best baseball so far. The team officially joins Hart, Valencia and West Ranch to represent the Foothill League in May baseball.
Castaic fell just an inch short of shocking everyone in their first varsity season. The future is still bright for the senior-less Coyotes. The team will return everyone and chances are they’ll land a handful more transfers, allowing Davis, even after a hard loss, to end the season with a smile on his face.
“This is something today for us to build on,” said Davis. “There’s no seniors in that dugout. I’m proud of them, they battled their butts off.”
Saugus will hope to continue their win streak as the team heads to Irvine for a matchup with Woodbridge on Thursday for the opening round of the CIF Division 3 playoffs.
“We knew we could get here,” said Plasschaert. “We’re going to take care of business in playoffs one game at a time.”