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Entering the week, San Clemente, San Juan Hills and Aliso Niguel were tied atop the Sea View League baseball standings with CIF-SS playoff spots and a league championship still in the balance.
The Tritons had done their job through the first two games of a three-game set against last-place El Toro to clinch a CIF-SS playoff berth, and Aliso Niguel won its first two games against San Juan Hills, which left San Clemente and Aliso Niguel to fight for the league championship on the final day of the regular season.
However, where Aliso Niguel took care of business, San Clemente stumbled, and the league championship landed up the road.
El Toro launched back-to-back home runs in the third inning to trip up San Clemente, 7-2, in both team’s Sea View League finale on Thursday, April 28, at San Clemente High School. Aliso Niguel shut out San Juan Hills, 6-0, to win the outright league title.
The Tritons (18-10, 7-5) now move on to the CIF-SS Division 3 playoffs next week. San Clemente is ranked No. 9 in Division 3. CIF-SS playoff brackets will be released on Monday, May 1, at 10 a.m.
“Ten days ago, our backs were against the wall after a loss to San Juan Hills,” San Clemente coach Dave Gellatly said. “We came back and fought our way back in it to where it was one game for a league championship. We didn’t quite accomplish our goal, but half the teams are going home and we’re still playing.”
Following a home loss to San Juan Hills on April 17, San Clemente was 3-4 in league play and San Juan Hills was alone in first place in league at 5-2. The Tritons then took the next two games against the Stallions and the first two against El Toro to charge into league title contention.
San Clemente and Aliso Niguel are off to the playoffs, and San Juan Hills will not advance to the postseason.
“I think they just got down to business,” Gellatly said. “Their goal was to win a league championship, and I really thought they had that focus. El Toro just came out swinging the bats today. That happens. (El Toro was) playing last game of the year just having fun, and I think maybe we put a little too much pressure on ourselves.”
El Toro got on the board four batters into the game with an early 1-0 lead, but San Clemente stayed sharp and responded in the bottom of the first inning. Chase Brunson worked a lead-off walk and scored on an error to tie the game, as El Toro froze up on a groundball to first.
San Clemente made a pitching change to open the third inning, after a lot of pitches were thrown in the first two innings. It seemed to pay off with two quick outs, but after an error on the third batter kept El Toro alive, the Chargers pounced.
A walk followed the error, and El Toro lifted a ball into the junipers beyond the right field fence for a three-run home run for a 4-1 lead. The next batter sent the ball to nearly the exact same spot for back-to-back home runs and a 5-1 lead.
“It’s one of those games that got away from us,” Gellatly said. “Two of their kids hit home runs, and they’re not a power hitting team, but they got a couple in their wheelhouse. We just couldn’t come back from that, and I think we pressed a little bit.”
San Clemente drilled three hard outs in the bottom of the third inning, but the Tritons got a prospective spark in the fourth inning. Jake Wood lasered a lead-off home run down the left-field line to bring San Clemente back to life, but that would be all the offense the Tritons could muster.
El Toro tacked on two more runs in the fifth inning to go on to the 7-2 victory.
San Clemente was playing for its first league title since 2015.
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