Coyotes beat Ganesha, 7-6, on an extra-innings walk-off to claim the CIF SoCal Division 5 Regional title
Chaos. Pandemonium. Insanity.
There aren’t enough words in the dictionary to describe Saturday’s CIF SoCal Division 5 Regional championship baseball game.
“It was a very emotional roller coaster, back and forth,” Castaic head coach Darrell Davis said.
The Coyotes (27-7-1) finished their season, just their second for the varsity program, on top, beating the previously unbeaten Ganesha Giants (20-1) on a ninth-inning walk-off, 7-6, at home on Saturday to add a regional title to the Southern Section Division 6 title that they’d already claimed.
“We just battled,” Castaic senior Joji Sakata said. “We never gave up, even though we were down, and then we got up. I mean, we just kept hitting, we just worked.”
Sakata was on first base in the bottom of the ninth inning with the Coyotes trailing Ganesha, 6-5, with one out. Ahead of him on third base was Matthew Airhart, and Anthony Luna at second, and Tyler Hawn at the plate looking to come through with a title-winning swing.
He got it, just not the way he’d planned. The pitch jammed him, and Ganesha pitcher Jorge Solares was able to toss it to catcher Isaiah Ibarra for the second out of the inning.
That’s when the chaos ensued. Ibarra went for the game-ending double play, throwing to first base, but the ball squirted toward the left field corner, allowing both Luna and Sakata to score and give the Coyotes an improbable victory.
“I knew that was gonna be a tough play for him to get out and try to make that throw at first, and I knew all I could do was just try to take up as much of that base path and make that throw as hard as possible for him,” Hawn said. “And that was a hard play to make for that catcher. I mean, props to him for hustling and taking that effort, but it was just a tough play and, again, luck going our way.
“I just kept saying, ‘Go, go, go go,’ and I saw Joji step right across home plate, I knew at that moment, like, we did it. We won the championship. And that was a special moment, especially with my boys.”
Both sides used a little bit of luck and some timely plays to reach that pivotal moment in the ninth inning.
Ganesha struck first in the top of the first off of Castaic starter Kyler Freude. Ganesha sophomore Bryce McAnich led the game off with a double into deep center field before coming home later on a double from senior Noah Alvarez.
The Coyotes responded in the third inning, with nine-hole hitter David Cailotto getting his team’s first hit, a single, with one out. Airhart then singled to move Cailotto around the bases, followed by a two-run single from Luna to put Castaic on top, 2-1.
“I asked around, the people who saw [Ganesha starting pitcher Gavin Moran], saw a flat fastball, curveball wasn’t overpowering,” Cailotto said. “So I was just looking for something middle in, anything I could just hit hard.”
The Coyotes tacked on three more runs in the fourth after the Giants scored in the top of the frame to make it 2-2. Castaic senior Brody Lusk led off the top of the frame with a single, and then singles from DH Jacob Bond, Cailotto and Airhart saw the Coyotes jump out in front once again.
Freude, after that rude awakening in the first inning, settled down to keep the Coyotes in the game. He ultimately went seven innings while striking out six, giving up seven hits and one walk. He nearly got the victory in regulation, but the Giants pulled across a run in the fifth and two in the seventh to force extra innings.
Castaic senior Diego Spross took over for Freude in the eighth inning, and the Giants nearly had their winning moment in that inning if not for Castaic senior Matthew Airhart. With runners on first and second with two outs, Ganesha junior Gabriel Smith hit a sinking line drive to left field that Airhart fully extended on to make the third out and keep the game tied at 5-5.
“That was huge,” Davis said. “And especially after we had another one that went off his glove, for him to come back, to have that confidence to go ahead and lay out, make that catch, huge.”
Ganesha finally did break through and take its first lead since the Giants were up 1-0, clawing across a run in the top of the ninth via a leadoff single and then an RBI double from Alvarez.
Davis knew that his team had a little more magic to pull off the comeback, though. He’s seen his team fight in the Foothill League against teams that are in top divisions in the Southern Section, and they’ve passed nearly every test that they’ve faced.
“We’ve been kind of used to grinding like that,” Davis said. “With our league the way it is, I mean, you’re grinding every week, Wednesday to Friday.”
Grind it out the Coyotes did. Airhart began the bottom of the ninth with a bunt single, followed by a Luna walk and fielder’s choice for Sakata that saw all runners advance safely.
The rest will go down as the highlight for a newborn Castaic program that just wrapped up its second season, and the first with seniors.
“A lot of effort came in with these boys, showing up every single day, giving it their all and playing their hearts out,” Freude said. “It was our last game for our seniors. We wanted to leave with nothing to regret.”
Freude got the start on the mound after Hawn delivered a gem in the regional semifinals on Thursday against Fillmore, giving up one run on five hits with three strikeouts in a complete-game performance. He was more than confident in the Coyotes’ other ace to get the job done.
“Kyler is like my best friend,” Hawn said. “Me and him, we’re the Kyler-Tyler show. It’s been us this whole year, and I have nothing but confidence to know Kyler is on the mound.”
Spross was ready for Freude to finish things off in the seventh, but knowing that he was the next pitcher up, he was raring to make sure that Freude’s seven innings weren’t wasted.
“When [Freude] came up in the seventh, I’m like, ‘Let’s go. Finish it. You’re there for a reason. You’re the best dude out there,’” Spross said. “Things got together and I came in at the end, and I was there to just help my team win a championship.”
The Coyotes, the top seed in the SoCal Regional Division 5 bracket, weren’t intimidated by the No. 3 Giants, who hadn’t lost all season and had only given up 14 runs prior to Saturday.
“There’s definitely uncertainty, always, for any game,” Spross said. “But you always have full trust, 100% trust in my friends, my teammates, my family, full trust in them.”
The seniors may be done — they’ve already received their diplomas after Castaic’s first-ever graduation ceremony on Thursday — but Davis is already looking forward to who can take their spots come next season. That preparation starts on Monday when Castaic begins its summer league in the Valley Invitational Baseball League, which will also feature Foothill League rivals in Hart, Valencia, Golden Valley and Saugus.
“I start all over on Monday,” Davis said. “We start VIBL on Monday, we’re at Royal, and we will start working again and start getting these boys ready.”
But Saturday was about the championship, one that the first class of Castaic seniors won’t ever forget, and Sakata made sure to note that everyone on the roster played a role in it.
“Everyone worked hard to get here,” Sakata said. “Everyone played their part. I mean, even the boys on the bench — they’re loud, they’re always picking us up. Everyone played a really big part in this.”