Amat (un)Earns State's Top Rank With Section Win

When Bishop Amat won the CIF-SS Div. IV title last year to emerge as the state's top team, they did so by battering a pitcher, J.D. Martin of Ridgecrest Burroughs, who'd been untouchable all year long. Saturday, the Lancers faced another hurler, La Quinta of Westminster junior Ian Kennedy, with similar credentials. And while they couldn't muster the offense necessary to produce a dominating win, they did just enough to eek out a 2-1 decision, taking advantage of Aztec miscues in the process.

The game, between teams ranked 1-2 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports and No. 2 and 4, respectively, in the nation by Student Sports, went eight innings before the home team Amat (28-2) was able to push across the game-winning run in the Div. IV final contested at Edison International Field of Anaheim. With one out, Adam Simon flared a double down the right field line against losing pitcher Mike McKernan (13-1), who'd come on in relief of Kennedy to start the seventh inning. Two walks sandwiched around a Mike Lange fielder's choice loaded the bases with two outs and brought pinch-hitter Andrew Soto to the plate to face the crafty lefthander.

The junior hit a weak chopper to third baseman Ian Stewart who threw a strike to first that would have beaten Soto by two steps except for one thing: first baseman Brian Wason couldn't handle the throw, which rolled into foul territory as Simon sprinted home with the title-clinching run.

"The whole time I had a feeling he wasn't going to make the play," said Soto. "I've beaten those out before."

For the Aztecs (29-3), who'd made just 12 errors all season entering the game, but had three today, it was a terrible way to lose.

"I've never said, ‘It's a game nobody deserved to lose,'" said La Quinta head man Dave Demarest, in his 29th year at the helm. "But in this game, nobody deserved to lose. There were a lot of ifs, ifs and ifs, but we gave them too many opportunities and we were shut down."

For Amat and its eight seniors, it was a fabulous conclusion to a memorable season that included a repeat win in the prestigious Toyo National Classic, also over La Quinta.

"It's a victory," said shortstop Mike Lange. "Andrew got up and put the ball in play. It's the same as if it was a single. We stayed focused and found a way to win."

"A win's a win," added Simon. "It's not the ideal you dream about, but we won and that's what matters."

The shocking ending did little to overshadow a brilliant performance on the mound from Simon, who went the distance, yielding just four hits and one run while striking out five. Simon had such great command that he needed only 84 pitches to get the job done. He also benefited from sparkling defense behind him in the form of two double plays and major league quality fielder on a couple of balls from first baseman Mark Esparza. Even the run he gave up was somewhat of a fluke, a two-out second-inning bloop that fell between second baseman David Pierson and right fielder Matt Lawhorn and plated Ed Arreola, who had walked.

"He's got talent, ability and the heart of a warrior," Amat coach Ken Kendrena said of Simon, who will attend UCLA next year. "That can take you anywhere."

Kennedy was equally impressive for La Quinta in his six-inning stint, even though the Lancers made him work harder than he'd hoped by working deep counts and fouling off a lot of pitches. The junior, who entered the contest with a 13-0 record and 0.43 ERA, struck out eight and walked only one while giving up only three hits and one unearned run. That run, which came in the third inning and tied the game at 1-1, came home following a failed pickoff attempt at first, which moved Esparza, who had singled, to third with one out. Esparza came home when Pierson was able to put a two-strike pitch in play on the ground.

The win closes the book on outstanding careers for the Amat seniors, seven of whom have started since their sophomore years. (Catcher Jordan Swayden transferred in this year from Damien of La Verne). The Lancers were 81-8 over that three-year span.

"Obviously with eight senior starters we're going to have to rebuild next year," said Kendrena. "We'll be good but not this good. This group of seniors, you can't say enough about them. They deserve this and everything they've done.

"Most of us grew up on Amat baseball," Simon said. "So getting the chance to be in a position like this two years in a row is a fantastic feeling."

"I'm going to miss these guys," Lange added. "I wish we could all be going to the same college. But I can't say enough about the character of this team. Some way, somehow, we were going to get it done."

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