Baseball Playoffs: Bonita punches its ticket to Dodger Stadium with 3-0 win at Gahr; Pacifica ends South Hills’ title hopes, 2-1

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.

Bonita’s semifinal photo gallery

By Brian Reed-Baiotto
— 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.

Keith Birmingham’s South Hills photo gallery

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.

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  • AMAT 73

    Good luck to both Bonita and South Hills. Rep the SGV with an all out effort and bring home the win then on to Dodger Stadium .

  • Steve Ramirez

    Hi all: I just wanted let you know, with our sister paper covering La Habra’s softball game, I’m here at South Hills for the semifinal game vs Pacifica. I will provide inning by inning score updates via There will also b a pitch by pitch link when the game has started.

  • bruins09

    any updates on the bonita game?? whats the link for twitter. im at work and they block the main twitter page those firewalls are blocking my access.

  • Steve Ramirez

    Hi all: I just wanted let you know, with our sister paper covering La Habra’s softball game, I’m here at South Hills for the semifinal game vs Pacifica. I will provide inning by inning score updates via There will also b a pitch by pitch link when the game has started.

  • Bohi

    no score at bohi game going to bottom of 2. Gahr stranded 2 in first. Bonita stranded 1 in 2nd.

  • Go Bearcats

    bonita up 3-0

  • bohi

    3-0 bohi going to bot 4

  • bohi

    still 3-0 bohi in 6th. Beckman LOSING to Alhambra 5-4

  • Go Bearcats

    6 more outs for bonita!~

  • bruins09

    any update on the bonita game?? did beckman come back???

  • bohi

    game over. Garza pitches the 7th for the save. 3-0 final.

  • SGV Fan

    I’ll take Sheehan on any team any day. That kid is a winner. Saw him play QB and today he was a stud. BTW safe at the plate. He is never over matched and always competes. Others get press but this kid is great.

  • FYI

    CONGRATULATIONS BONITA BEARCATS !!!! Garza may have finished them off but obviously, PARKER MERRITT showed that the Bearcats have more than one pitcher. Great job, Parker. One of the finest baseball programs in SoCal gets a shot at the prize. Congrats also to Coaches Knott, Newell & Cates, some of the best educators and baseball minds around. These guys will NOT allow their players to forget that this program has been close before. Expect the BEARCATS to be hungry, focused and confident, and being led by the one guy who will be the most relaxed player on the field; JUSTIN GARZA. It ain’t over….Finish Bearcats, Finish.

  • Sgv baller

    Anything can happen,but with GarZa on the mound and Bonita’s defense ,I don’t see them losing.south hills was like amat this year .good but not consistent .we won’t find out about Monrovia until later.they play in palm desert.

  • Fan

    Congrats to Bonita. Whole valley rooting for you. SH got beat by a great team. One hit in the game for SH.

  • SHfan

    Congratulations to Bonita and good luck on Friday. South Hills thanks for another great guys rock, tough one today. Danny Sheehan is a competitor, thought he was safe at the plate. Ty France and CJ Saylor will go down as Husky greats. Good luck to all the seniors. Now it’s time for the under clansmen to step up and carry on the tradition.

  • SGV

    Nice pic of Sheehan dislocated finger in trib pictures. Trainer popped it back in tape and back in game. Behind home plate he didn’t even flinch. France pitched a great game. Big future for him and Saylor. Just couldn’t hit today. Pacifica wins it all and so does Bonita.

  • sgv baby

    what a dream for these kids. if BoHi wins Garza wins

  • Garza MVP

    Garza will get the sgv MVP . Don’t think he has played enough competition to get California MVP if they had it.that would go to Ty Moore from mater dei who is 12-1 also on the number 1 ranked team in nation.also Ty Moore is one of the best hitters on the team.dont know much about teams from any where Else outside of the southern section. Congrats to Bonita on a great season.bring one home for the valley.


    If you can recall my comments on Garza preseason, Garza has accomplished everything as I predicted. But there’s still one thing left, “No hitter” for Garza, I am not sure he can do it on the Championship game, but Bonita will hold the Championship Trophy after Fridy for sure.

    As I said before, not many players can touch the 94 mph fastball at high school level. Garza has some scary arm speed with his only 5’10″/160s size. Can you believe it? A lot of talented kids like Garza was misjudged by some stupid coaches, and quit pitching or baseball early because of their size. Garza should write a book about how he trained his arm for the public, thus help a lot of kids to be like GARZA!!!

  • Bonita

    Fred, win or lose on Friday, I think it would be a really great idea to run an in depth story on Bonita baseball and John Knott. Before he arrived on campus 7 years ago, Bonita’s program was decent, but normally included no league championships and no deep runs in CIF. The program had their fair share of good players, even pro players such as the Reed brothers.

    Since he has gotten here, they have won the last four league championships, will have played in 2 of the last 3 CIF championships, has had 3 players drafted over the past 4 years (Justin Garza will be the 4th) and has sent numerous players off to play in college. What is really cool is that his 2 most successful seasons are 2010 and 2012. In 2010, he had lost Jio Mier (pros), Jeff Gelalich (UCLA), Plowman, Henley, and Calderaro (all are at APU) and everybody thought let’s see what Bonita will do now. All they did was reload and made if farther than the 2009 team when they played and lost the CIF title game. Fast forward to this year when they lost Matt Gelalich, KC Huth, Robert Mier, Mark Lindsey, Adam McCreery and Brandon Murfett….and what do they do….they turn in probably the most successful season in their history and have yet another chance to cap it off with a CIF title.

    This type of success is not an accident. It starts with John Knott and the coaching staff and the passion that they instill in the players DNA. Bonita doesn’t recruit and I can’t remember a notable transfer into the program in quite a few years. The players start the Bonita way at the freshman level and includes voluntary summer conditioning, hitting etc. The coaches attention to detail is legendary. They won a nail biter in the quarter finals and a key part of that win was the outfield positioning of their right fielder, sophomore Joe Willard, who threw out 3 players at first base and none more important than in the 7th inning. Joe made the plays, but the coaches put him in the position to make the plays. Mitch Newell, the pitching coach, had Garza returning, but no real experience on the mound beyond him. What do they do…see Parker Merritt, Sam Stavang and Alec Garcia’s stats…all under 2 ERAs. The hidden gem is Coach Cates….his dedication and passion to hitting is unreal. He works and works these guys all year long and their hitting seems to improve as the year goes on. They also know you cannot win without defense and they are always among the best defensive teams in the valley. Have you seen Thomas Castro play third or how about the play Nolan Henley made in center field on Tuesday.

    Win or lose on Friday, this program is one of the best in all of southern California and the city of La Verne and Bonita can thank Coach Knott, Cates and Newell for that. In case your are wondering, the lower level teams and incoming freshman are all very talented and I don’t see this train slowing down anytime soon.

  • Go Bonita

    I believe Coach Knott has touched on Justin Garza training routine all year in the press. He trains more than his arm folks, he trained his entire body for the last three years and runs at 530am. It didnt happen overnight for him and thats the real lesson and story behind this young man.

    This young man has an impeccable work ethic and he’s achieved everything to this point because of his body of work. More importantly than his success, is his humble approach, his team leadership, his team approach and the will to win!

    He realized how important it was to be the
    complete athlete and by improving his core and total body strength. He’s bigger than the 160’s more like 180 and climbing. He’ll put on another 15lbs at the next level and then we’ll see how that plays out in his future development. The great thing about him is that he continues to have the will to improve and doesnt settle for today!

    Good Luck to the Bearcats on Friday!

  • AMAT 73

    Congratulations to the Bonita team on making the finals.Great job by Merritt on getting it done when called upon . Great win and good luck at Dodger Stadium in the final and bring home the championship to the SGV. Either way though a very fine season and great example of team play although having a player like Garza who plays the complete game either on the mound , plate , or on the base paths is a plus and he is a great example of what good old fashion hard work can get you . Fine job young man and I wish you much success in the future along with your fellow senior team mates.

  • AMAT 73

    Congratulations to the Bonita team on making the finals.Great job by Merritt on getting it done when called upon . Great win and good luck at Dodger Stadium in the final and bring home the championship to the SGV. Either way though a very fine season and great example of team play although having a player like Garza who plays the complete game either on the mound , plate , or on the base paths is a plus and he is a great example of what good old fashion hard work can get you . Fine job young man and I wish you much success in the future along with your fellow senior team mates.

  • Good Job but…

    Good Luck Bo-hi!!!

    One question/comment though… No transfers/recruits?

    Where does Garza live? Azusa right?

    Most don’t remember, that Coach Knott’s roots are from Azusa. He went to Gladstone, had his foundation set by Coach Remkus, played at APU under Barbone (I believe), and if I’m not mistaken alot of Knott’s alumni friends are sending their kids to Bonita.

    Can’t argue the product on the field though, just a little history/clarification.

    Lastly, I believe that Garza also trains with Tony Barbone’s brother in La Verne.

  • Coaching Matters

    Bonita Said
    Excellent and I would add some more on Knott, Cates, Newell

    John Knott, Dave Cates and Mitch Newell don’t really talk much about them, because they believe it’s about the kids. But John, Dave, Mitch have LOADS of experience and Bonita is the winner in all of this.

    In my opinion, one of the best coaching staffs around because they develop local talent from within the system and that takes a special group of men. They just out prepare the other coaches in the area. Sure other coaches have baseball knowledge, but the preparation these guys put in is what makes them special.

    This year is a prime example of that! Why, because the critics said it couldnt be done. And now, probably the best team in schools history. Sure they had stars in the past, and some this year, but its about the team that made this group win. Its awesome to sit back, learn, watch and really appreciate the fine efforts from Knott, Cates, Newell.

    Some little size notes:
    Knott: All American at APU, Collegiate experience coaching at APU, Cates played at APU and coached at APU too, plus has professional ownership experience. Newell pitched at APU and I think they all would be the first to say, that their individuals experiences has helped mold them into the coaches they are today!

    Great Job guys, now go get that RING!

  • Go Bonita

    Amat 73

    Youre a class act!

    Thank you

  • Bonita

    Garza has been at Bonita since his freshman year and DID NOT transfer in from another high schools and WAS NOT recruited. truth be told, nobody saw this coming when Garza was on the freshman team. He was one of the better players, but fastball probably was around 80 and he was much shorter than he is today. Knott has been doing this with the players that show up and doesn’t recruit. In fact, some really good LV players in class of 2013 ended up elsewhere.

  • socalbaseball fan

    CSF and Baseball America lists Garza’s hometown as Ontario. Should be a good game friday with underdog Alhambra vs Bonita. D1 final is a shocker with 5th place Corona playing against Newbury Park which has a candidate for player of the year in Luke Eubanks who is unbeaten. The D2 final has 2 good teams playing in Pacifica vs Aliso Niguel. My predictions are Newbury Park,Pacifica,Bonita,and Palm Desert winning cifss titles.

  • Don

    Since BoHi has developed such a following here I thought I might suggest that all of you Bearcat Baseball fans click on and vote for Jeff Gelalich as the College Player of the Year. A most deserving, super terrific kid from a great family who had an awesome year for one of the best teams in the country.

    It may, in some small way, offset the pain that he and brother Matt (Pepperdine 2015) will feel when they have to watch brother Danny on the Dodger field Friday, a venue neither reached while still in HS. (Just kidding, they both will be only proud of little bro, the last of the Gelalich’s to play for Coach Knott.)

  • One Bro show

    Alot of good comp in the category, stats looked good and way better than his brother at Pepperdine.

  • mental game

    Having played for Coach Remkus back in late 80’s and Barbone shortly thereafter, I find all this amusing. Bonita’s a private school so who cares where the kids are from that go there. Shoot, back in the day, Amat had guys from Victorville and San Bernardino on their squad and probably still do. I love the comment about this Garza kid that says he works out his whole body and gets up to run at 5:30, somehow to prove his dedication. The kid’s a great player and has worked for it. That statement reminds me of some great players I faced and played summer ball with back in the day that I know we’re beasts with their workout routine too. Guys like J.R. Phillips from Amat, Tony Pena from Mater Dei and Chris Castro from Baldwin Park. Those guys competed like no other on the mound and this kid seems to be cut from the same cloth.

  • Why

    One Bro Show –
    And your kid is playing where?
    He’s a freshman starting in CF for a D1 school. Big adjustment from HS.
    Don’t be a hater because you got cut from the JV team.
    Comment totally uncool – dude. Totally cool family and those boys work very hard. Been around them for 5 years +. Nothings been handed to them inspite of what others might think or say.

  • Fan of a Bearcat

    Mental game- Bonita’s a private school?!?! Wow they must really like my son, because we have not paid one dime for his education and he is a student there. LOL Bonita is a public high school.
    Just for the record to all those chatting on here about Justin Garza, he was never recruited, been there all four yrs. He is a great kid with a lot of self discipline, has a wonderful family supporting him, and deserves all the accolades for what he has done with a baseball.
    Good Luck to our Bearcats on Friday…you can do it! GO BONITA!

  • Little Fat Albert

    why said(AKA GREG)

    Ok Greg, get off the blog. Dude you talk so much crap. Better keep working on that mid section.

    This week it’s about BOHI not you dude!

  • mental game

    My bad, yeah, I saw the colors and was thinking it was a Damien; same city.

  • mental game

    My bad, I think of La Verne and I was thinking of Damien for a split second.