MONTEBELLO — Coach Larry Patino said he gave his Cantwell Sacred Heart of Mary High School baseball team two options May 31. Win and play for the CIF Southern Section championship June 4 or lose and attend the team banquet that had been scheduled weeks ago for the same day instead.
The Cardinals preferred the former and defeated Citrus Hill, 4-1, in a Division 5 semifinal to put unseeded Cantwell (28-4) into the championship game versus top seed Woodcrest Christian (28-5) under the lights (7 p.m. scheduled start time) at UC Riverside. Woodcrest Christian defeated Tahquitz, 2-1 in the other semifinal.
“These kids love playing baseball,” said Patino, who in three years has led the Cardinals to two league titles, the playoffs each season and now the school’s first championship game appearance. “People wondered why I took the job, but it’s amazing what we’ve done here and it’s been a dream come true for me.”
Daniel Ordoñez led the way going two for two and driving in all of Cantwell’s runs. With the bases loaded in the third and his team down 1-0, the ninth batter in the order hit a deep fly ball that dropped between the Citrus Hill center fielder and right fielder and cleared the bases.
In the fifth, he homered to the right-center gap with no one on to extend the lead.
“My approach was to put the ball in play and hope that they wouldn’t make a play on it,” Ordoñez said.
Starting pitcher Chris Ibarra worked five innings to record his fourth win in six decisions this season with relief help from Andre Garcia and Zachary Thomas. Ibarra was the third different pitcher used by Cantwell to start a playoff game.
Citrus Hill (22-7) collected seven hits and put runners at second and third against Garcia in the sixth with no outs. But Garcia struck out the next two batters and got the third out on a ground ball to remarkably end the threat.
Garcia gave up a pinch hit single and hit the next batter to start the seventh. Patino replaced Garcia with Thomas, who retired the next three batters to close it.
Thomas and Ordoñez also delivered in the clutch in Cantwell’s 7-5 quarterfinal victory over Paraclete May 27 in Lancaster. Thomas came on in relief and inherited the bases loaded with one out and the score tied in the seventh. Paraclete attempted a squeeze play, but the batter missed Thomas’ fastball that was low and away and the Cardinals tagged out the runner coming home, and retired the runner trying to advance to second to end the inning.
Thomas earned his ninth win of the season against no defeats.
Ordoñez singled in the winning run in the eighth and Thomas singled in another to win it.