Bonita finishes the job with 5-1 victory over Alhambra to claim its first CIF title since 1951, Justin Garza hurles masterful three-hitter

Video highlights and interviews from the Inland Insider Tom Kiss on Bonita’s historic victory

Keith Birmingham’s championship photo gallery of Bonita’s 5-1 win over Alhambra

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
— 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.”
626-962-8811, ext. 2161

PREGAME PREVIEW: While Bonita is searching for its first title since 1951, Alhambra is making only its second appearance since 1927

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  • Joe Amat

    How can Bonita be considered an elite program if they have not won a title since 1951???


    I could not be rooting for Bonita any more to bring that title home. What a great experience for them to play the championship game in an iconic ballpar that will create memories of a lifetime for these kids.

    Knott has done a great job and it’s evidenced by the number of players he has playing college baseball and, in the case of Gio, the pros.

    Go get ’em Bearcats and bring one home!

  • SGV Fan

    Go Bonita!!!! You worked hard and diligent in a tough Division to get here. Bring it home! Joe Amat, you just had to get on and say something didnt you? Nice accolades at the end of your note! You are a good sport. Go Bonita!

  • Say it ain’t so Joe

    Good luck Bonita, Joe, you’re a good sport, always have been and Amat is one of the great baseball programs in the Valley. I love when they go to the National Classic and win and beat O.C. teams, great for the SGV. But what is also great is what SGV teams have done to Amat since 2008

    Northview beat Amat in 2008 Glendora tourney final, Northview wins the CIF championship

    San Dimas beats Amat in 2009 semifinals, same year San Dimas wins the CIF title.

    South Hills beats Amat in 2010 Cory Lidle tournament at Mt. SAC

    Bonita beats Bishop Amat in Cory Lidle tournament in 2011, Amat wins the CIF title.

    Hint, no wonder Nieto stopped scheduling SGV teams in the Corey Lidle …

    2012, Monrovia beats Bishop Amat in CIF playoffs…If I’m counting Joe, the SGV is 5-0 against Bishop Amat since 2008. There might be other insignificant games I missed against lesser SGV teams, but in the big meetings, Amat is 0-for-5 ..

    But hey, today is about Bonita, go get ’em Cats.

  • realityczech

    Thats funny- and typical. Isnt the Lidle tournament an offseason tourney in the fall? And you’re gonna brag about that one? LOL! That’s a “big” meeting? No matter when anybody plays Amat I guess its their Dodger/Angel Stadium or the Pond.
    congrats to Bonita for a real trip to Chavez Ravine!

  • Correction!

    Correction! Bishop Amat has never played in the Cory Lidle tournament. Both games against S.Hills and Bonita were played in the RJ foundation game and were played during the spring season. Just saying…

  • Treba

    Hello, is anyone there? KAYKEA Snaer for Rowland has monumental stats! She catches and digs out more pitches in the dirt than any other catcher in the Valley. Throws out all runners, hits for power, 16 HRs ,has the highest BA, OBP, SLG, HR, RBI, RS, than any player in her league! Yet because she is a Junior she was not voted League MVP, unbelievable! What an excuse by the people who voted. She deserved the honor and should be seriously considered for MVP for the Valley. Jusy my 2 cents.

  • Arch

    Great job out there boys! Way to bring it home. I have four of these boys in my class, all good hardworking kids who deserve this and all the accolades that come with it. Way to end this school year on a high!

  • AMAT 73

    Great job BEARCATS , congratulations on bringing the title home to the SGV. Enjoy it as it will be a fond memory for a great team . People will remember the 2012 Bonita team for sure. Garza pitched probably the greatest final high school career game that has happened to local in a long time and again was solid on the field , plate , and mound . POY without a doubt .On a closing note, now is Bonita’s time so why don’t you fools try not to turn this thread into a pissing contest and just enjoy their win.

  • GoAmat

    Great jon Bonita! Good job Alhambra!

  • GoAmat

    Great job Bonita!! Good run Alhambra!

  • GoAmat

    Good job Bonita!! Good run Alhambra!!

  • Sgv baller

    @say it ain’t so.Why are u attacking amat on Bonita’s moment.congrats to Bonita, winning a cif championship is hard to do no matter what division it is. Its a tough thing to do because it’s so easy to have a bad day and easy for opponents to have there best takes perfect team play for 5 games straight to win. By the amat beat south hills in 2010.

  • reality

    Great job Bearcats: While accolades will rightly be given to the boys of Bonita, I will use my time to high five the coaches. In this run it has been Bonitas defense that has made the difference in many close games. And great defense does not happen by luck but by hard work and great coaching. They threw to the right bases, hit the cut off men, and continually made the smart plays with no taking of needless chances that plagued their opposition. Bonitas reputation of great coaching at all levels continues and now goes up a notch with this Title.

  • Frank

    Congratulations Bonita, there are some great kids on that team. Alhambra great effort, nothing to be ashamed of. To get to the final game is a big deal on its own. Unfortunatly someone has to loose.

  • Exhale

    I would like to express my congratulations to a great bunch of Bohi’ young men that worked their butts off all year long. What were they doing last Saturday after their win! Taking batting practice in the am! What were they doing almost every Saturday during the year? You guess?

    Someone wrote ” This type of success is no accident Well he is exactly right!

    This program started turning the corner when Coach John Knott was hired by Bonita.

    He requested the help from Mitch Newell and Dave Cates. Interesting all these guys were former players and coaches at APU. Just maybe they learned something before they arrived at Bonita. By design? Or just a bunch of APU Alumni (Jocks) got together and offered their expertise to the community of La Verne.

    This coaching staff has the energy, passion, competitive nature; knowledge, consistency, love of game, and the ability to OUT prepare the opponent. In the beginning of the year, nobody thought this team was much without Justin Garza. Sure, Justin brings a special gift to this team, and he has acted and played like every team player on this team. He did his job and then some! Awesome young man with a bright future..
    The play today was a prime example of team unity and how everyone contributed and just played their game. Just good old fashion hard work day in and day out and in the end the reward is something nobody can ever take away from these players or coaches.

    In my opinion this is by far the best team in Bonita Baseball History simply because they were a team and believed in a system that works. Bonita is finding a way and if someone doesnt think coaching matters, well think again. Wow, what a year!

    It truly was a joy to watch this program and group of players win the CIF Championship today!

  • LVresident

    Wow what an amazing day for the bearcats. The boys were full of poise and showed that all of their hard work paid off during a well deserved victory! I was very impressed with not only the level of play but with their class. Bonita’s whole campus was all business and class yesterday. There was so much support from administrtion, faculty, students, and the entire comminity. After the great championship game, everyone hurried back for the girls powderpuff football game and boys green and white football game and nothing missed a beat. That says a lot about principal ketterling and the type of school he runs. His organization extends down to AD Podley which extended down to coach Knott and his staff during their awesome performance which extended down to coach Medrano and his staff during their events. what a day for the entire la Verne community. Im going to go out on a limb and say that bonita is the best all around school, public or private, in the sgv! and as coach Bamunk says, o yeah Bearcats!!!!!

  • SGV Fan

    Great job Bonita! What a great group of young men who not only brought home a title to the valley but brought class and great work ethic to the sport of baseball. I wish all of the seniors the best in their bright futures’! Many thanks to the three coaches who put in countless hours for minimal pay all for the benefit of the fine young men that you mentored. You are the unsung heroes!

  • Joe Amat

    Great job by Bonita on getting it done in “Blue Heaven on Earth”! It was awesome to see such great execution, and I loved Garza’s suicide squeeze. A pitcher being able to handle the bat like that will only help him at the next level. Watching a champioship celebration is the next best thing to being in one, and big ups to “The Inland Insider”, Tommy Kiss, for allowing us all to share in that moment. That’s 12 minutes every Bearcat fan should cherish.

    (Inside tip: if you want a copy of that video for your hard drive, instead of relying on the World Wide Web, go to either or and if you paste the YouTube URL of the video it will download a copy to your computer for prosperity. No charge by them for the service…or me for the tip šŸ™‚


  • Joe Amat

    …and another thing (like John Madden bursting back onto the blog) …after seeing the results of the games at Dodger Stadium being ALL public schools…

    Isn’t it time we look at the CIF rules and examine that “public school advantage” that leads to their dominance? NO private schools? What is this? Freddie – where is the article? Get Sondheimer on the line! Wigood? Fix this injustice!

    Have a great weekend! Hope the “sarcasm font” was working on my computer ;-D

  • Not Since 1995

    Yet another CIF CHAMPIONSHIP for a “little ol” public school in the SGV…!

    Congratulations Bonita High School BearCats…

    And the privates keep watching the rings fly by…!

    Not In…hahahahahaha!

  • Lancelot

    Congratulations to the Moors on a spectacular season, getting to the “Ship” is a feat in and of itself. You guys had a great run. Awesome season Bonita, way to close it out and bring it home, Congratulations! Enjoy the past season and relish the moments like these because they are hard to come by and these are the ones you will remember for years to come. Way to go SGV!!!!

  • NoDoubt

    Awesome job Bearcats! You deserve this outcome for all your hard work and dedication, and never giving up! La Verne is blessed to have such a great baseball community from Little League all the way to Bonita HS. Our guys have access to some of the greatest coaching around even at the younger levels. I think some credit goes to the investment made by those coaches – like Claprood, Olsen, Digimarino, Barbone and on and on….thank you!!

  • just sayin

    Exhale I second your post, and have been posting for many years how that staff is worth 1 to 2 runs per game. It is almost no longer fair since they have such a coaching advantage of such significance. Its almost like La Rusa against dads. Watch their dugout one time and see the coaches charting everything on those old fashioned clipboards.

    The most significant is pitching. That coach totally mixes his pitches up because he can. Meaning all their pitchers year after year throw strikes with at least 2 to 3 pitches. He then pitches different to most all batters and changes his calling patterns throughout the game. From what I have seen he is the best pitching coach around both in development and gamesmanship. I would like to know their average walks per game and highest amount of walks in game over the last 3 years. I will bet the average is 3 or below. Part of the reason Garza can pitch so many complete games (besides his obvious conditioning) is the coach does not have to call fastball after fastball which he could do very easily. He allows him to pitch to contact and get easy outs without running up his pitch counts by trying to strike out every guy. Smart coach.

    Yes Bonita has been blessed with D1 caliber guys to anchor their rotation, however, they also have developed guys like Tuttle, Murfett, Merrit, and Garcia the last few years.

    Next year should be a little different in league as they finally are going back to home and away in the same week. This rule allowed Bonita and other schools to have their ace face the team 2 times. Can you imagine facing Garza both times in league. Ouch.

    Congrats to Bonita on a superlative season and representing the SGV. I wish you would have faced an Orange County team though so the valley would have had some bragging rights with those guys. I think you would have beat Beckman this year.

    GO SGV, YOU ROCK IN BASEBALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • reality

    There is this old baseball movie some years ago that titled itself “For Love of the Game”. It was about a lovesick veteran pro pitcher who injured himelf and made his way back. As I watched Toms video I wondered how hard your struggles are when you make millions a year, have a mansion in Aspen, stay free in 5 star hotels with massages and booze, and drive Ferraris to the ball park? Real love for the game was on display yesterday afternoon. Coaches who probably spend alot of their own money helping out kids. Devoting countless hours in practice and transportation,kids learning for years how to play the game right and for most will never play at this level again after graduation. Alhambra and Bonita are the true examples of playing for love of the game. In my opinion there were no losers yesterday at Dodger Stadium but there were a field full of champs.

  • Fred Robledo

    Love the comments here, from the coaches to the players, this is one of the most humble championship teams I’ve ever covered. The players always give credit to coaches and teammates during interviews and the coaching staff and Knott is always first class. I couldn’t agree more with everything that has been written.

  • Aaron

    I’d like to congratulate the Bonita Bearcats on achieving destiny…when I was at the Diamond just two seasons ago it seemed our boys had forgotten what had gotten them to that moment, and then last when I was again watching them against Beckman. Except Chad Rieser took care of business against my cats and their Bats tore apart A-Mac and Murfett.

    I was able to watch online after work and Fred saw my frustration via twitter when I saw some of those calls by the third base umpire going in Alhambra’s favor.

    I was wondering if the Cats would see Beckman and Kaprielian…but Alhambra took them out…then I saw what I saw when I watched these boys beat Westlake with a walk off by Tanner Diebold. Active bats. If you look at the roster, although Knott always seems to lose three year starters…wait Garza pitched in 2010…saw that as well. He always seems to cultivate an offense and if his pitchers don’t throw the heat he’s used other strategies.

    Wish I had been there in person! Congratulations to the CHAMPS!!!