Video highlights and interviews from the Inland Insider Tom Kiss on Bonita’s historic victory
Bonita opens it up with four runs in the third and Justin Garza finishes his high school career with a three-hit shutout to give ‘Cats first title since 1951
By Fred J. Robledo, SGVN
LOS ANGELES — Bonita High School’s baseball team can finally exhale, the drought is over.
The Bearcats’ extraordinary season ended with a masterful 5-1 victory over Alhambra to claim the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 title in Friday’s championship at Dodger Stadium, giving Bonita its second title in history and first since 1951.
Bonita’s Cal State Fullerton-bound senior pitcher Justin Garza cemented his status as one of the San Gabriel Valley’s all-time greats, ending his high school career with a complete game victory to finish 12-1 and a remarkable 25-1 over the last two years – a span in which he only allowed 15 earned runs.
Garza allowed just three hits in Friday’s win and retired the final 12 batters, ending the game with his seventh strikeout.
“To be able to persevere with all the pressure he’s gone through, with all the scouts coming out and with everybody knowing how good he is and trying to take it away is what sets him apart,” Bonita coach John Knott said of Garza. “(Alhambra) came out ready for the fast ball, they were fouling off pitches and got a run early, but for a kid to not be emotional and not let his highs get too high and to be able to stay the course and be consistent is something I’m not sure I’ll see again as a high school coach.”
Bonita, the division’s top-seed, set a school-record for victories in finishing 32-2 while denying Alhambra, making its first title appearance since 1927 — a shot at its first CIF title. The Moors finished 24-4.
For Garza, he can finally relax after fending off batter-after-batter all season.
“It was just a journey and a grind,” Garza said. “It took a lot of blood, tears and sweat to get here, but that’s how it had to be done. Nothing is ever given to you, you have to work to be successful, and it wasn’t just me, we all earned this.
“You could tell from the beginning of this year we were going to bond. Our team is scrappy but I always felt it (championship) was going to happen. We had that vibe and we finally did it.”
Bonita, which had lost in title games in 1974 and two years ago in 2010, ended a 51-year drought.
Third baseman Thomas Castro, the only player who started on Bonita’s 2010 team that lost in the finals, was 2-for-2 with a run scored. Justin Row had a double and scored twice as Bonita pounded out seven hits in all.
“It was a great journey,” Castro said. “From the beginning of the season we told each other we’re going to always fight and never back down. It’s amazing to see all that hard work come together in the end.”
The Bearcats broke a 1-1 tie by tacking on four runs in the third inning and taking advantage of a big call at first base that turned the tide.
With Tanner Diebold on third and Row on second, Garza’s one-out sacrifice squeeze down third easily scored Diebow, but Alhambra pitcher Mario Briones’ hurried throw to first to get Garza was scooped up momentarily by first baseman Juan Morales as Garza made contact, knocking the ball out of Morales’ glove.
Garza was ruled safe on the juggled ball and while the Moors disputed it, Row rounded third and scored to give the Bearcats a 3-1 lead. The bleeding continued for Alhambra. Tyler Heslop singled home Garza and Castro scored on a wild-throw to third after Nolan Henley’s infield single, allowing the Bearcats to take a commanding 5-1 lead.
“First of all, I thought we recorded the out before the ball trickled away,” Alhambra coach Steve Gewecke said on the play at first base. “Then I thought (the runner) was inside the line, which means he’s out. The umpires thought it was different, and we’ll live with that. ”
Row helped stake the Bearcats to a 1-0 lead when he reached first on an error and advanced to second on a pass ball in the first inning. Castro picked him up with a one-out single to center, but the Moors came right back in the top of the second.
After Jeremy Duran stole third and Blake Kuehnle walked to put runners on the corners, Briones belted a two-out single up the middle to bring in Duran to tie the score, 1-1.
It was the last hit and run the Moors would get off Garza. The Moors also didn’t help their cause by committing four errors.
“We just didn’t have enough today,” Gewecke said. “That’s the bottom line. We lost to
a good team. You can’t give Garza five, he’s going to make it standup. I thought
we hit the ball hard. But they made some great plays and deserved to win.”
For Knott, he felt the relief of winning his first title as coach.
“I’m so proud of our kids,” Knott said. “Obviously to do this isn’t simple or teams would
be doing it every year. I’m so proud of our defense. They fed off (Garza), but they made the plays behind him and didn’t get overwhelmed by the surroundings or the moment.
“And look, I have a ton of respect for Alhambra. They fought all the way through and I know they’re not happy to have those four errors behind them, but their hitters had tough at bats and they fought until the last out.”
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