Santa Ana’s offense is steamrolling competition right now. In their latest playoff fiasco, they beat Fullerton by a score of 9-5.
The victor of the series moves on to the California Community College Athletic Association state championship.
Fullerton struck first in the second inning.
With runners at the corners, the Hornet at third base inched his way down the line.
Catcher Mario Tostado fired down to third base to pick the runner, but his throw sailed past the third baseman down the left field line, allowing the runner from third to score.
The next inning, pitcher Hauze Fragoso found himself in a bases-loaded situation after intentionally walking the Fullerton clean-up hitter with runners at second and third.
Fragoso locked in with the tension high, striking out the next two batters he faced to escape with the scoreboard unscathed. He snuck a changeup past the swing of his first victim, then blew a fastball past the next batter for strike three.
“[The] fastball felt really good today,” said Fragoso. “ I think it clicked in the third inning. I felt like it was really working for me.”
He roared with emotion after shutting the door on the jam.
“That was awesome. I knew I had to execute my pitches and I did. Things worked out for me. I was hyped,” said Fragoso.
Mathew Dobson led off the bottom of the third inning with an infield single. The Fullerton shortstop’s relay throw to first skipped past the first baseman, but Dobson slipped as he turned toward second, halting any chance he had at taking second.
Eddie Pelc then tapped a ground ball up the middle for a single. Dobson never broke his stride as he rounded second base and advanced to third.
Tostado came up looking for redemption after his prior error allowed a run to score. He lined a ball sharply past the glove of the Fullerton shortstop and Dobson scored. The game was tied at one run each.
Austin Haller kept the offense going. He singled into shallow right field to score Pelc from second. The Dons took a 2-1 lead.
Haller was then caught wandering between first and second. He found himself in the middle of a pickle with the Fullerton defense, so Tostado began to creep down the line to home plate to score amidst the chaos.
Tostado’s plan was foiled quickly as the Hornet infield picked off the catcher at third to end the inning.
Right fielder Christian Thompson flexed his arm strength in the top of the fourth. Thompson charged on a ground ball that made its way past the infield toward him. He fielded the grounder and fired quickly to first base to get the runner, completing the unusual outfield assist at first base.
“Defense is everything…That’s how we get outs. If we don’t have a good defense it makes everything harder, especially on the pitching staff and the coaches,” said Thompson. “Every play you’ve got to be locked in, busting your ass for the ball, trying to do your best.”
On the next play, Thompson flashed the leather again, as he made a diving grab on a short line drive and tumbled forward with the ball snug in his glove,
Dobson then made a stellar back-handed grab in the top of the fifth. The third baseman picked the ball off the third baseline and fired across the infield to punch out the runner by half a step.
Fragoso began the sixth inning with 99 pitches on the day and a slim one-run lead.
He turned in two quick outs before allowing consecutive sharp singles to put runners on first and second.
Matt Schavone came in to relieve Fragoso with two runners on and two outs in the sixth.
The Hornet hitter worked a full count. Schavone’s payoff pitch was a low fastball. Painting the inside corner with a borderline pitch, Schavone thought he’d frozen the hitter, but it was called ball four to load the bases.
It would have been the third out of the inning, which outraged the Dons faithful.
The controversy led to a debacle, as the next Fullerton batter slugged a long fly ball far to left center that sailed over the fence. The grand slam gave Fullerton their lead back at 5-2.
However, the Dons were resilient.
Haller and Rocha both singled in the bottom of the sixth, bringing up Marc Schavone with the tying run on first base.
Schavone delivered. He sat back on a slow-breaking ball and knocked the cover off of it. The Fullerton right fielder could do nothing but join Schavone in watching the ball disappear over the top of the fence. Schavone flipped his bat in celebration as he tied the game at five.
Schavone, twin brother to Don’s relief pitcher Matt, who had just given up the grand slam in the previous inning, was glad to be able to pick up his brother and his team.
“It was great,” said Schavone. “He [Matt]’s been really good for us all year so I knew that if we could get him back into a tie or a lead, he would go out there and throw a zero for us.”
The Dons kept it coming after the home run celebrations died down.
Jimmy De Anda singled before stealing second. Dobson walked to bring Thompson to the plate.
Thompson chopped a ball up the middle. The Hornet second baseman fielded the ground ball cleanly, but threw it past first. De Anda and Dobson scored on the error to put the Dons back ahead 7-5.
“Got the job done right there, ” said Thompson. “ At that point, I’m just trying to put a ball in play, especially with two strikes. Chopped the ball up the middle…it got the job done, it got two runs so it was awesome.”
Pelc came up next and roped a double to score Thompson. The Dons responded with six runs of their own, taking an 8-5 lead.
Right-hander Joey Iglesias relieved Schavone in the top of the eighth with two runners on and one out. Iglesias put down the next two batters he saw in order, including the batter who had hit the grand slam.
Tostado doubled in an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth to add to the Dons’ lead of 9-5.
“We don’t go down without a fight,” said Thompson. “It goes to show how talented we are. We know how to score runs, we know how to create offense, especially when we need to.”
Iglesias returned in the ninth to close the game for the Dons. After a leadoff walk, Iglesias struck out the next batter and then forced a double play to end the game.
The back-and-forth victory puts the Dons one game up in the three-game series. They need one more win to move on to the state finals.
Game two against Fullerton will be at 1:00 p.m. on May 20, at Santa Ana College.
“We’ve got some good energy going into tomorrow,” said Schavone. “We want to finish this thing tomorrow, we don’t want to take it on to Sunday. One more until we go up north so we’re excited for sure.”