Bonita, the Trib’s No. 1 nearly all season, is the lone team to advance to a championship after its 3-0 win over Gahr. Bonita will face Alhambra, a 6-4 winner over Beckman, in the Division 3 championship on Friday at Dodger Stadium at 1:30 p.m. South Hills battled, but fell 2-1 to Pacifica.
By Brian Reed-Baiotto
CERRITOS — Bonita High baseball coach John Knott rolled the dice in Tuesday’s CIF-SS Division 3 semifinal playoff game when he handed the ball to junior right-hander Parker Merritt instead of hard-throwing ace Justin Garza.
Knott’s gamble, though, paid off big time, as Merritt (8-1) went six-plus shutout innings on five hits to lead Bonita to a 3-0 victory at Gahr.
The Bearcats (30-2), now have Garza (11-1) ready and able to throw up to nine innings in Friday’s championship game against Alhambra (24-3) at Dodger Stadium at 1:30.
Garza replaced Merritt with runners on first and second and no outs in the bottom of the seventh and Gahr’s Hector Partida at the plate representing the tying run.
Garza struck out Partida and Anthony Rodriguez, and then got Oscar Reyna to ground out to punch the Bearcats ticket to Chavez Ravine.
“This was such an exciting win, because everyone thinks of us as a one-trick pony and that we can’t win unless Garza is on the mound,” Knott said. “Parker did a great job of throwing strikes and hitting his spots and puts us in a very desirable position with our ace on the mound in the championship game.”
Bonita’s Nolan Henley made arguably the game’s biggest play in the bottom of the third inning when Gahr (19-11) had runners on first and second with two outs and Arizona State-bound junior slugger Kevin Franklin at the plate.
Franklin hit a shot to deep right-center field that looked to be well beyond Henley’s reach, but the senior center fielder ran under it and saved two runs for Merritt.
Henley then led off the top of the fourth with a single, stole second and moved to third when Anthony Gonzlez was able to fight off an Andrew Encinas pitch and punched the ball to the right side.
Bonita catcher Jacob Blunt’s one-out single up the middle with the Gahr infield on the grass scored Henley and gave the Bearcats a 1-0 lead.
Encinas retired Joe Willard for the second out, but the Bearcats No. 9 hitter Woody Reyes was able to extend the inning with a two-out single and brought leadoff man Justin Row to the plate.
Row tripled to deep left field when his line shot grazed off the glove of a diving Gladiators left fielder Adonis Morrison and scored Blunt and Reyes to extend the Bonita lead to 3-0.
Merritt cruised into the sixth, when, with one out, Jaime Estrada reached base on a Thomas Castro error at third base and Franklin singled to give the Gladiators first and third with one out and the tying run at the plate.
Merritt, however, got Daniel Gomez to hit a ground ball to Garza at short and the star senior turned it into a 6-4-3 double play to end the threat.
“I just wanted to get us to Dodger Stadium by throwing strikes, mixing my pitches and location and allowing our defense to make plays behind me,” Merritt said. “Henley gave us the momentum by making that huge play in the third and we got hits when we needed them. We’re very excited to have Justin on the mound in the biggest game of the season.”
Garza is 24-1 over the past two season’s and had a heavy pitch count in Friday’s 2-1 nail biter over Paramount, but the senior right-hander was chomping at the bit to close out the Gladiators.
“I wanted the ball in the fifth, but Parker did a great job today and has done so all year,” Garza said. “I was so excited to get a chance to close out the game and felt really fresh. We’ve put ourselves in a great position thanks to Parker’s outstanding effort today.”
Encinas (7-6) got the loss after allowing three runs on seven hits and struck out six Bonita batters over 6 1/3 innings.
The Gahr junior lefty threw 23 innings in the postseason, and got out of a bases-loaded and one-out scenario unscathed in the third by getting Castro to fly out to shallow center and striking out Tyler Heslop.
Blunt and Row had two hits apiece for Bonita.
Pacifica 2, South Hills 1: South Hills High School looked to be in the catbird seat.
The Huskies, after being no-hit for five innings, fought back and looked to be sitting pretty in the sixth, with runners on first and third and their two best hitters – Cameron Saylor and Tyler France – due up.
Pacifica’s Kyle Davis had other ideas.
The senior struck out Saylor and France, then tagged out Danny Sheehan at the plate to keep a one-run lead intact to lead the Mariners to a 2-1 victory. over host South Hils.