True to the playoff mantra, there was drama Friday on the Bonita High School baseball field.
It lasted one inning.
After the top seed in CIF-SS Division 3 allowed an uncharacteristic run in the first inning, Bonita quickly pulled away for an 18-1 victory over San Gorgonio in the first round of the playoffs.
It may have only been one run, but considering the circumstances, it qualified as dramatic.
Bonita pitcher Justin Garza, who has signed with Cal State Fullerton and is sure to be selected in the Major League Baseball draft in June after leading the Bearcats (27-2) through a dominant regular season, walked eight batters in 65 regular-season innings. He walked the first batter of Friday’s game.
The senior was referred to by Bonita coach John Knott as “the best fielding pitcher in the country,” but made an errant throw to second when the second batter of the game bunted.
The San Gorgonio player who got the Spartans’ only hit of the day was making his first varsity plate appearance, but freshman Hazajel Quijada drove an RBI single to center field in the first inning.
“I think, you’re a senior and it’s the playoffs and there’s a lot of people watching him,” Knott said of Garza. “Your tendency is to over-pitch.”
Garza threw nine pitches in the second inning, struck out the side and never looked back.
The first-inning theatrics, however, didn’t end when Garza left the mound. The first ball off a Bonita bat was snared in left field where San Gorgonio’s Brandon Charles made a diving catch complete with a somersault. Bonita managed to load the bases, but left the first inning with just one run.
“When he made that diving catch, I thought ‘Oh no, this is going to be one of those games where they make all the plays behind him,’” Knott said. “It’s going to be a nail-biter.”
One inning later, Knott’s theory went out the window.
Bonita scored seven runs in the second inning, capped by a two-run single by third baseman Thomas Castro, who went 3 for 4 with three RBIs, a pair of runs scored and a number of fantastic plays in the field.
The Bearcats batted around in the second, third and fifth innings while building a 14-run lead on the third-place team from the San Andreas League. San Gorgonio didn’t have its ace available to face Garza seeing as the Spartans (18-10) missed out on the San Andreas League championship by an inning and were forced to pitch Belizario Gutierrez in Tuesday’s 3-1 wild-card victory over Menifee Heritage.
“We rode him all year long,” San Gorgonio coach Bill Eatinger said of Gutierrez. “But even if we had him available, would it have been enough to win today? I don’t know. (Bonita) hits everybody.”